Kindergarten Students Enjoy Circuits !

It all started with a New Year’s Resolution…one of my K teachers asked her students to think of something they wanted to learn more about in 2017. When school started in January, she made a list of what they resolved to learn. One of her students wanted to learn more about circuits, so she approached me and asked if he could come to the maker space in the media center to learn more. I was so excited at this opportunity to explore this area with a K student. I scheduled him to come to the media center and he was there 1 hour and 30 minutes. He loved the experience and asked if he could come back. When he returned to class he told the other students what he had experienced and guess what?? They all told the teacher they wanted to learn about circuits. So I have been taking 4 students at a time from that K class, and we have been exploring the world of circuits.
One of the things I have used to start is the puppet of an LED light. This was purchased at ADAFRUIT.COM/MHO.


I attached a real LED light to the puppet so the students understand what it is in the real world. We discuss the positive and negative side of the LED (the puppets legs). Next, they are given a coin battery and a real LED light. I asked them to make it “light up” without breaking the “legs” of the th LED light. It was unbelieveable how fast these K students figured it out! I turned off the lights and got all exicited about their success…they were excited, too! I then discussed how they can use this in upcoming projects, card making, etc. I showed them examples of projects that other students had done using these 2 items. They were then each given a set of snap circuits and they were told to follow the diagrams to make something. I told them they could work together or alone….and believeit or not, each time they chose to work by themselves…Once they have snapped together a project, they were so proud of themselves. I also had them rotate around each project, so they each got to test the different experiments designed by their classmates. They enjoyed trying each one out, too. I have invested in several kits from ELENCO ELECTRONICS, Inc. and here are the titles of the kits:









There are also many other things you can do with circuits…I have a Makey Make  that can be used to show a complete circuit or broken circuit. Students love playing with this tool.
Another idea is to use squishy ciruits. Using conductive dough and insulating dough students can learn how to get an LED light to glow, a motor to run, or a buzzard to sound. The source I used even sells the dough already made! They have updated their early kits and I highly recommend their products. Here is the information:

Squishy Circuits

The students learn lots of things including failure. When their project does not work, they need to figure out why and sometimes they need to ask another student to help them. Collaboration occurs naturally and it is amazing how the problem can be as simple as having the batteries in the pack backwards.
I must admit, that when I was purchasing my materials for the makerspace I was thinking of 3rd graders and circuits, but I learned that K are very excited about this topic and they all told me and their teachers they ” cannot wait to come back to the makerspace”. This all started with one student’s New Year’s Resolution….and it spread to the entire class. Never underestimate what your younger students can do or what they are interested in. The sky is the limit…and it this case…it was circuits.

Making a List … and Checking it Twice ????

You may want to add these two titles on yours:

Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects (Build, Invent, Create, Discover) foreward by Jack Andraka, published by DK Smithsonian, 2016.
Steam-makers: fostering creativity and innovation in the Elementary Classroom by Jacie Maslyk, published by Corwin, 2016.

Jack Andraka, the foreword writer of Maker Lab, was a 15 year old high school student when he invented an inexpensive early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer. He has won numerous awards for his work, currently is a student at Stanford University and is the author of the young adult memoir Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator is Changing the World.
Inside Maker Lab, you will find really great projects like making Baked Alaska, Balloon Rocket Cars, Sticky Slime, Invisible Ink, Lemon Batteries, Breathing Machines, Rubber Band Planets, Stunning Stalactites, Soap-powered boats, Jungles in a Bottle, Wind Catchers, Erupting Volcanoes, Fantastic Fossils, Density Towers, Waterwheels, Icy Orbs, Sensational Speakers, and many more. Each project has step by step directions, supply lists with photos, beautiful illustrations to follow, and Real World Science facts about the project you are working on. The projects are also divided into four sections: Food for Thought, Around the Home, Water World, and The Great Outdoors. You will surely find something to relate to the curriculum to help students better understand and get “their hands on” experience on at the same time.

There are over 90 QR Codes for Web Resources in Steam-makers, as well as, a plethora of information including the history of STEM, change makers, failing, connecting, building, networking,  and starting. It connects disciplines, bridging learning styles by naturally engaging young people as they apply learning in creative ways. There are examples on how to get resources and grants. The appendices are filled with information on the STEAM Studio Badge System, a Sample Professional Development Plan, an English Language Arts Extension Chart, a STEAM Making Permission Slip, a Makerspace Supply List, Websites for STEAM and Making, and a Student Reflection Sheet.

Chapter 4 is one of my very favorite resources for children’s literature that can be used to support STEAM makers. The chart is divided by Maker Books by topics, which include architecture, inventors and inventions, robots, electricity, coding and programming, and math. Besides the book titles and authors, there is a Make it! column, A Little Inspiration column (with appropriate websites), and a QR Code column, which takes you to fantastic resources. Having all this infomation in one location is so vital, with the busy lives we lead and is such a valuable resource, as we support our students on their STEAM Making journey.

Good luck with your adventures ahead and may the “Making Magic” continue in the new year ahead.



img_4404It is all about timing..that is for sure..a few weeks ago I received 2 boxes of new books. I opened them up like a child on Christmas morning and flipped through the pages of some of them. I did not have them in the system yet and had not even paid the invoice. I actually was still taking inventory of the titles and checking them against the enclosed invoice, when one of my second grade classes arrived in the media center for their weekly check out time. I left the job I was doing in my office, and went into the main part of the media center to assist the studens. One of the cutest little girls asks me if I have a book about how to make goo? I was very surprised, since this question was never asked by any student and I also realized that Halloween was over a month away. I initially was at a lost for a book to suggest to her, …but then I suddenly remembered one of the pages I had flipped through a few minutes ago…It was called “Ooey Gooey Slime” and it was in the new selection entitled Mason jar crafts for Kids_ by Linda Braden.

 So the student followed me into my office, where I found the new book, showed her the picture and she immediately jumped up and down, and said ,”Yes, yes, yes…that is the book I want to check out…” I explained to her I needed to process it first, and it was ordered to remain in the makerspace, but told her I would copy the pages for this recipe for her. She also asked me to copy the title, so she could tell her mother. In addititon, I promised her she could check it out the following week.
I really thought that was the end of the story. However, when I saw her again on the playground during the week, she quickly informed me she was buying the materials to make the recipe and asked her mother to buy her the book. I also thought that was the end of the story. The next week she came back to check out books and sure enough she asked me if I had the book ready for her. Of course, I took it out of the makerspace and checked it out to her. She hugged that book like it was gold. So now I was sure it was the end of the story. On Thursday, just 2 days after her check out day, I got an e-mail from her teacher asking me if I had time to stop by her room, since this little girl had something to show me. I answered her that I would be there in the afternoon and when I arrived the little girl went to her schoolbag and pulled out her treasure in her glass mason jar. She took my hand and sat me down a table and let me have some of the “goo” she had made…She was so proud and I could not believe how it looked exactly like the picture from the book. She was glowing with excitement and I told her how proud I was of her and how surprised I was that she did this experiment so quickly after receiving the instructions. She said, “I didn’t think you were going to come to my room today” . I told her I would never not keep a promise I had made. She also informed me that she used her own money to purchase her own copy of the book and it was to arrive at her home the next day. I was speechless… Her teacher later told me she kept looking at the door all afternoon waiting for my visit.
This was one of those stories that I needed to share as well as the title of the book. When we change one student’s life in the simplest way it is just amazing…and it all started with a book. I hope all of  you will have stories to share….and make a difference in someone’s life. As Dr. Seuss once said: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Reading Promotion Events

After reading several articles on one of our main goals as teacher librarians to teach our students a love of reading, I felt one, in particular (TL June 2016), had some food for thought. One of our goals is for our students to choose to read independently and acquire a love of reading for pleasure. One way to accomplish this goal is to have a calendar of yearly reading events.
Studies have been done that show extrinsic rewards can temporarily increase motivation but do not have a lasting impact on developing the reading habits we are seeking for them. (Pavonetti et al., 2002) Recently, research has found that by maximizing opportunities for student choice of reading materials students increased their involvement in reading and enabled them to engage in conversations about their book selections (Hall et al., 2014) Through these studies, it was evident that students need time, resources, and support from both teachers and other adults to allow them the opportunity to read for pleasure, stressing the importance of intrinsic motivation and student choice when selecting their books. We teacher librarians, can provide reading promotional events throughout the school library to create a culture of reading. The following list and sites are primary for students in K- grade 6, but older students can be involved as well since many of the events would be interesting to them. I hope you will find something you can share with your students and faculty in the coming year.


International Dot Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Banned Book Week


Library Card Sign-Up Month


Read for the Record

National Hispanic Heritage Month


Family Literacy Day

World Kindness Day _classroom

Picture Book Month

International Games Day


Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel Book Awards

Letters About Literature


Science Fiction Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day


Groundhog Job Shadow Day

Black History Month

Presidents’ Day

World Read Aloud Day


Read Across America

Children’s Choice Awards


D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read)

School Library Month

National Poetry Month


Star Wars Day

Free Comic Book Day



Lions, Tigers, and Cheetahs ? Oh, My…

IMG_4188 IMG_4189IMG_4007 (1) IMG_3972IMG_4239 (1)                                                   (a mosquito)

What happens when K students visit the makerspace to create a project about their favorite animal which they have researched? Their list consisted of lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, deer, sharks, wolves, lizards, giraffes, bats, monkeys, parrots, sloths, crocodiles, and mosquitoes. Some of the students worked in groups and some worked individually depending on their choice. Watching them turn clothespins into trees, plastic bags into animal bodies, straws into grasslands, pompoms into trees, clay into animals, tiles into water holes and mud areas, and gems into animal spots was absolutely fascinating. Using their imagination the students decided to make animal masks, actual models, and habitats for their animals.


Each student had access to the same materials, but everyone took a different approach to solve their problem. They shared the information they learned about the animals’ predators, the food they eat, as well as how they hunt and live, in their displays. The results were absolutely amazing and they could explain every detail they created. Visitors to the media center were in awe as they admired the final displays. They attracted the attention of the JK students and teachers and they wanted to know who designed them. One of the wishes the JK students made in the beginning of the year was to learn about some of these animals. Arrangements were made between the JK teachers and the K teachers to have the K “experts” share their knowledge with the JK students. This made the project a full circle experience for everyone.

IMG_4227 IMG_4226 IMG_4225 IMG_4224 IMG_4223IMG_4222 IMG_4221 IMG_4228                                                                                                                     ( a parrot)

Felix Adler in 1892 was adamant about about kids becoming discoverers of knowledge by learning how to make things as opposed to being passive recipients of it. This lines up with the current thinking today in our 21st century schools. The self confidence that each K student displayed was apparent as they transferred their expertise to their younger audience. This culminating activity reenforces the power children have on their learning experiences when we just “Let Them Go and Let Them Make.”


Need an Extra Body? Create It At The Makerspace!

That’s exactly what the first graders students at my school did. Their PBL (project based learning) unit was on their bodies and “the big question was, ” What part of your body is the most important and why? ” Each student could decide how they wanted to do their final project share, after they did all their research. Several students wanted to design their project in the maker space and came to the area with their ideas and some materials.
After discussing what they wanted to display, one group used littlebits to depict how the brain sends messages to all parts of the body. They used colored tissue paper to make the brain, and traced an outline of their body out of out of butcher paper. By tinkering with the different components of the littlebits, they used the long led light wire to represent the messages sent by the brain through the nervous system.They taped all of these items to the paper model and here is their final design: IMG_3724
Another group was interested in the skeletal system and started collecting and cutting up different sizes, shapes, and textures of cardboard. They used the tool kits and bolts in the MakdoKits to give the cardboard skeleton movable joints ! A round piece of cardboard was selected for the head and of course they added the smiling face. IMG_3723IMG_3789
The group that picked the circulatory system brought plastic blue and red straws to use for their project. Using another paper outline cut out for their body, they decided to glue straws on it showing the veins (blue) and arteries (red) that had been oxygenized. They also had balloons to represent the lungs and borrowed the balloon inflator from the maker space to demonstrate how the lungs work in the circulatory system.IMG_3731IMG_3754
For the digestive system, students from another group made an esophogus using a cardboard toweling paper tube, a plastic zip lock bag for the stomach, clear egg cartons filled with food representations for the lower intestines, and yarn measured exactly the length of our upper intestines. IMG_3762
One group made a puppet show on the senses and the puppets included a nose on a stick, a tongue on a stick, an ear on a stick, an eye on a stick, and a hand on a stick. It was amazing how they came up with this idea by themselves and during the show it was evident they knew how the senses worked individually and collectively. IMG_3764           The parents were invited for the final project share and the students were dressed like museum guides. The classroom was transformed into a body museum and the students directed the tour. Each station was taught by the students, their projects were explained and the facts and information they researched was shared by the students. The teachers were on the side watching and listening to the comments of the visitors.IMG_3756
In a world where the 3D printer is being used to actually make body parts and prosthetics, these first graders were truly an inspiration for the future. Recently, I read that a student actually made his own 3D braces and saved over $7,000.00 by doing it. Once again the belief that if students are given the opportunity to take ownership of their projects and are given some direction they get excited about what they do and learning does take place in a more exciting manner. Let them go….watch them….and be amazed….I always am!

Fairy Tales, Cookies, Makerspace and Beyond…..

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The Gingerbread Man……IMG_3656IMG_3664…..and Beyond……

We all know the story of this runaway cookie…but using technology, collaboration, and any curriculum, a whole new adventure can be discovered and embraced. This year, I am working with Jr. K students to create an exciting adventure they will never forget. In December, I read one of the many versions of this favorite fairytale to the class and showed them the 3D gingerbread man that I had made last year. Jan Brett’s extraordinary illustrations in Gingerbread Baby are one of my favorites and of course, my audience loved the surprise ending with the mystery flap.
In the classroom, the children experienced the steps needed to measure the ingredients and follow the recipe for this all time favorite sweet. Both teachers and all the students baked their own individual gingerbread cookies and of course, they all ran away. When the children discovered their cookies were gone, they followed the well planned clues and went around the campus in search of their snacks. At the end of the day, they had indeed discovered all of the missing runaways, except both of the teachers’ cookies.
The next plan, in the collaboration process was to come to the maker space and discuss their problem. They listed ideas and solutions to try to solve the problem of the two missing cookies. Students wrote their ideas on the white board table and shared. They voted for the top 3 best choices and we listed them on the table, too. The first choice was to build a trap to catch the missing sweets.  So each child designed their idea of a trap and explained just how it would operate.
In the meantime, the two missing cookies were safely tucked in the library refrigerator with a note, “Please do not eat us…we are part of a project.”
After our winter break, the students returned to the maker space and were divided into two teams. Each team was assigned to design a trap using materials in the maker space as well as other tools they could find in their classrooms.
Once the traps were designed, students needed to plan where to set them and then the waiting began. Miraculously, one of the traps successfully captured one of the teacher’s runaways. The students were thrilled and you can imagine the glee on their faces to see that cookie inside. However, one trap remained empty and another journey began for that cookie.
Since the curriculum for these students would involve learning about the waterways of Florida, the missing gingerbread cookie sent the class an e-mail or a letter. He told them that he had gone on a trip around Florida and his first stop was a waterway. Using a green screen, the technology teacher and maker media specialist sent pictures of this traveling cookie on all the waterways, lakes, and rivers the teacher wanted to cover in her lessons. The children were given clues and maps to  guess where the cookie was visiting. Suggestions as to where they think he would go next were also listed for further reference.

This can be a fantastic segway to learning all the information about that particular topic in any curriculum.These lessons could continue the rest of the year. Depending on the teacher’s input, the gingerbread man could continue forever on his travels or could return to the classroom at the end of the year.
This lesson can be adapted to cover many different disciplines and curriculum subjects. Letter writing, story telling, and creative writing can also be embedded as well as punctuation, parts of speech, math (to measure how far he travels in between e-mails), measuring (in cooking the recipe), geography, map skills, transportation, weather, clothing that he would need to wear in certain climates, rocks & minerals, animals, and insects, to mention just a few. Mishaps along the way could explain a broken foot or missing eye of the cookie. Using your imagination, the list can gone on indefinitely. So next time you think a fairy tale is just for the younger students you teach…remember you can always go beyond…just like this “cookie”.

Collaboration with Media and Tech = Design Challenge + K Students

We celebrated fall again this year with one of my favorite design challenges with K students in collaboration with the technology teacher. We start this lesson with me reading a book entitled The Biggest Pumpkin by Stephen Kroll to all the K classes. One of the problems in the story is finding a way to move the enormous pumpkin to town for a contest. Before that lesson we purchase giant pumpkins for each K class and place them in the main hallway quite a distance from any of the K classrooms. When we finish the story, we tell the students we have a problem and ask them to follow us out to the main hallway and show them their pumpkin. Their problem is to find a way to move their giant pumpkin to their classroom without damaging it in any way and without any adult help. We allow them each to try to lift or move the pumpkin by themselves . When this solution fails, we tell them to think of ways they can safely accomplish this goal. We tell them we will return the next day with a large sheets of paper for them to each draw their solution.

The next day, we arrive with baskets of crayons and long drawing paper which we spread out in the hallways. Each child draws their solution making sure to include all the students in their drawing, since all their classmates must be included in the solution. We return to the classroom and allow each student to explain their drawings . Finally, they vote and the top 3 solutions are chosen. Students will be asked the next day to actually try the solutions, one at a time, if the first one does not work.
I must mention how amazed we always are at the possible solutions they think of and how excited they get when they actually succeed and get their pumpkin into their classroom. We take videos of them shouting and jumping up and down and chanting, ” We did it, we did it, we did it.” They are always so happy and proud of themselves.
Their next job is to estimate how many pumpkin seeds are inside their pumpkin and we chart all of their answers. Then they vote on the many different shapes they want for their jack-o-lantern’s nose, eyes, and mouth. This is the math curriculum connection which includes shapes and estimating. After we cut the top off, they can make another guess for the number of seeds and they can also put their hand inside the pumpkin to feel the seeds. These estimates are logged on the chart next to their first estimate. Finally, we clean the seeds, count them, and place them on number charts with squares numbered 1- 100. The students count the sheets and then find out who had the closest estimate. Another tasty activity to do is to roast the pumpkins seeds and have the students taste them. This is a great curriculum  link to a science unit on growing food and demonstrates the food cycle.
While we cut their pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns using the shapes they voted for, the students can make hair for them or any other decorations they decide to use. Each one has its own personality when they are done.
The final activity involves the teacher choosing several students from their classes to come to the makerspace to actually design their solutions using a small plastic pumpkin model. As the media specialist, I only guide them as they create and design their models (prototypes) using any of the supplies found in the makerspace. (see inserts) Once again, the students are so proud of their creations , which are always displayed for the entire school and visitors to see. Displaying their work is vital to the design process and reinforces how valuable creativity is at all ages.

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Resources for your Makerspace

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I am Dottie Smay, the lower school “maker media specialist” at Shorecrest Preparatory School and along with Courtney Walker we created a school wide maker space in our ECC-grade 12 media center. We have had many visitors come to see our Makerspace and one of the main questions they have is what would they need to get started. Since there are a variety of materials that could be found in a makerspace, we always say to save everything you would naturally throw out. Seriously, empty plastic cantainers could be used to house some of the materials in your makerspace. I have seen projects made with shoe boxes and empty tissue boxes in conjunction with the 3D printer. So really anything and everything goes.

During our summer camp one of our students made a candy dispenser machine using Legos and LittleBits together. Creativity takes place when students see the individual tools like MakeyMake and squishy circuits and design their project using some of these tools for the next level of learning. Conductive ink, conductive paint, conductive thread, conductive tape, and circuit stickers are some other suggestions to have in a makerspace. The Hummingbird Robotics Kit, Squishy Circuit set, 3D doodler, perler beads, clay, paint, K’NEX, Maker CircuitScribe Kit, ProtoSnap-LilyPad E-Sewing Kits, Qubits, Electronic Snap Kit, Electronic Playground 130 & Learning Center, Adafruit puppets (LED,  555 TIMER CHIP,TRANSISTOR, RESISTOR), cotton balls, string, balloons, feathers, cardboard of various shapes and sizes, duct tape, washi tape, masking tape, electric tape, rubber bands, clay, paint, foam board, felt, fabric, plastic balls, straws, pipe cleaners, computer keys (from discarded computers), styrofoam of any kind, feathers, empty cardboard tubes, old jewelry, and picture frames, etc. are just some of the various items to add. There is no perfect list since anything can be repurposed or upcycled. Keeping materials organized in clear storage containers and labeled is highly recommended. This not only assists students while they use materials and clean up, but also helps keep the makerspace organized.  Remember it should be a variety of low, medium, and high tech tools to inspire all ages and levels of creativity and design.
I have also collected lots of resources both for professional use and student use that stay in our maker space. Books with duct tape projects, Lego designs, paper airplane books, etc. to sets of books geared to the 21st century skills we are striving to attain. Follett has a series entitled 21st Century Skills Innovation Library: Makers as innovators. Titles include:

3D modeling, 3D printing, Arduino, Design thinking, Digital badges, E-textiles, FIRST robotics, Game design, Hacking fashion : fleece, Hacking fashion : t-shirts, Maker Faire,

Makerspaces, More web design with HTML5, Prototyping,

Raspberry Pi, Scratch, Silk screening, Soldering, Squishy circuits, Web Design with HTML5

     PowerKids press has a set entitled Maker Kids for grades 3-6 with High-Tech DIY Projects including 3D printing, robotics, musical instruments, microcontrollers, flying objects, electronic, sensors, and LED’s. Rosen has a set entitled Makerspaces for grades 6-12 with titles including Getting the most our of makerspaces to explore arduino & electronics, to build robots, to make musical instruments, to go from idea to market, to create with 3D printers, and to build unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition to the professional book Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager there is The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun by Josh Burker with classroom technology projects. I am sure you have heard of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, a YouTube show to encourage tinkerers of all agers to go out there and make something. So we have her book entitled Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book Volume 2 – Super Simple Arduino! by “Super-Awesome” Sylvia. By the way, there is no volume 1, in case you were wondering.  The Maker Cookbook, School Library Makerspaces, The Makerspace Workbench, Think Tank Library, The Repurposed Library, and Tinkerlab (a hands on guide for little inventors are additional sources for all ages and interest levels. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley is another professional resource we keep in our makerspace to remind all of us that we are all born with creativity. We just need to spend more time exploring our talents and a makerspace is the perfect place to achieve this. Hopefully, these resources will help our students and teachers, beginning at any level, flourish into our future “makers” of the world.