Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints: Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons

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Good teaching is good teaching. Although trends in education ebb and flow, just like in fashion, the good stuff comes back in style! The maker movement may be a new name, but the concept of kids as creators is not a new one. Tinker toys were invented in 1914 and Legos have been around since the 1940s so kids have been creating for a long time. However, this is one of the first times that education has embraced this creativity and harnessed it to pinpoint learning targets. By presenting authentic problems or inquiry questions for students to solve and outlining steps using design thinking to solve them, education has opened a whole new door for a deeper, more comprehensive learning experience for students.

I recently learned about design sprints from my friend Kristen at while I attended the #InnEdCO18 conference in June. Design sprints give students an opportunity to use the design thinking process to answer a question or solve a problem in a specific amount of time. The ISTE Standards for Students defines the deliberate design process as: A methodology for problem-solving; a series of steps used to solve a problem and design a solution. For example, human-centered design process, project-based learning, engineering design processes, scientific method. 

This is the second post in this 4 part series: Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints (click here to see the first post in the series; Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints: What If . . . ) Discover great picture books to launch a design sprint with a STEAM challenge in your classroom. 

Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons by Dr. Arlyne Simon

Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons is another great new book that hit the shelves in May 2018 which encourages kids to be scientific thinkers and inventors. It begins with a visit to Abby's classroom from the inventor of a robot that helps kids with their homework. I love that the inventor is a woman of color and Abby gasps, "She looks like me." While coloring a picture about their visitor, Abby and her friends are frustrated when their crayons keep breaking. That is when Abby decides to invent unbreakable crayons, and her teacher tells her, "You are a problem-solver. You are an inventor. You solve problems big and small because you have great ideas." Then Abby uses design thinking to create unbreakable crayons.


Another framework for design thinking created by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani is called the LAUNCH Cycle. It is a student-friendly framework for students to use as they become innovators. You can find more information from A.J. Juliani in his blog post A Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking in the Classroom and a free download of the LAUNCH posters.

You can see Abby follow this framework as she invents her unbreakable crayons.

Abby asks the teacher to get crayons that do not break only to discover, "There isn't one crayon in the whole, wide world that doesn't break?!" 

This leads her to some important questions: "What are crayons made of? How are crayons made? Why do crayons break?" 

She does research at the library to discover the process for how crayons are made, what makes them hard, and what gives them their color. 

Then Abby analyzes her information. You see pictures of her notebook as she outlines what she learned about how crayons are made. She makes notes about her ideas for what will make the perfect unbreakable crayon. 

Then she creates a prototype in the science lab at her school. She tries different variables such as the amount of dye and the baking and cooling time, but all of her crayons still break.

When her prototypes aren't working, her teacher encourages her to look for everyday items that don't break. Abby brings her notebook to the playground to collect data and finds a common trend in things that don't break: hard plastic. She tries making crayons again using hard plastic and comes up with the perfect recipe for unbreakable crayons. She tests them out by jumping on them, trying to bend them, and she even has the teacher run them over with the school bus! 

She shares her invention with her classmates because she has finally made unbreakable crayons. She even receives a patent for her invention!

This is a great book to show K-2 elementary students what it looks like to go through the LAUNCH Design Thinking Process. It fosters a growth mindset because there are a lot of failures before Abby gets it right, which is what our students will experience when inventing too. So have your student's become inventors!

The Global Day of Design

Right now educators across the globe want to harness the power of children's creativity, so there are a lot of resources to help you get your students inventing. The creators of the LAUNCH Cycle have also started the Global Day of Design as an opportunity for teachers to implement design thinking in their classrooms. This year, they posted several different design challenges, or design sprints, leading up to the Global Day of Design.  From designing their own Flappy Bird game to designing a school on Mars, there are some great opportunities for students to be creative.

John Spencer has created a bunch of maker challenge introduction videos which are the perfect tool to help you kick off a design sprint. This Cardboard Arcade Game challenge (above) is an example, and it's also a great connection to the Global Cardboard Challenge.

The Global Cardboard Challenge

Another one of my favorite design challenge events is the Cardboard Challenge. This event all started with Caine's Arcade. The creativeness of one little boy who shared his invention globally helped spark the maker movement. My district has been participating in the Global Cardboard Challenge for years, and thousands of students K - 12 from our district come to showcase their cardboard designs.

Some teachers in my school run an after school club to help students prepare for the cardboard challenge every year. My son was in kindergarten this year, and he participated for the first time. There were literally thousands of projects, and the problem solving, creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking was just amazing.

As you are creating a long-range plan for this coming school year, get these events on your calendar! The Cardboard Challenge comes at the beginning of the school year in early October and the Global Day of Design takes place in May. These are great opportunities to start and end your year harnessing the power of student creativity through design challenges!

Don't forget to check back for more ideas in the series Literacy + STEAM= Design Thinking Sprints!
The next featured book will be:


Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints: What If . . .

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, but at no cost to you. Thank you for your support!

When you combine literacy, STEAM, and the opportunity to apply design thinking, you have the perfect recipe for creating your own design sprint! A design sprint is a question or problem to solve in a specific amount of time. I recently learned about design sprints from my friend Kristen at during the #InnEdCO18 conference. You've probably heard the term design thinking–it is the all the rage right now. Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving. The ISTE Standards for Students defines the deliberate design process as: A methodology for problem-solving; a series of steps used to solve a problem and design a solution. For example, human-centered design process, project-based learning, engineering design processes, scientific method. According to Jonathan Courtney, "Design Sprints use the philosophy of Design Thinking as a foundation, a philosophy, a toolkit for innovation . . . But the Design Sprint is one great way of systematically executing all of it."  

This 4 part Design Sprint series will focus on a book, a design thinking strategy, and a STEAM challenge, so check back to read all 4 posts. Bonus: Many of the featured books in this series star women, people of color, and people from different countries as the main characters!

What If . . . by Samantha Berger

This beautiful new book (published in April 2018) inspires kids to create! It begins, "With a pencil and paper, I write and draw art to create many stories that come from my heart." And if she didn't have a pencil or paper she'd use the table, the wall paper, and the floorboards to create. She would sculpt with leaves and snow, or use her voice and her body to sing and dance out her stories. At the end there is a note from the author and artist about the inspiration for this book. A flood forced the author, Samantha Berger, to evacuate her apartment and she lost everything. She writes, "After the flood hit, I had nothing to work with at all: no paints, no brushes, no markers, no nothing. It was then that I started to realize anything could be used as an art supply–the pinecones on the trees, the paper in the recycling bin, the kibble in my dog's dish–and I used them all! When I understood that everything could be used to express myself, it made me see the world in a whole new way." 

This book is geared toward primary classrooms, and it's a great beginning-of-year read aloud to introduce the concept of a maker space and STEAM challenges. 


Science + Art + Literacy= Maker Space Stories

The last line of the book What if . . .  says, "As long as I live, I will always create." What a perfect introduction to begin your own maker space in your classroom! If you emphasize that this story is about creating stories, you can begin writer's workshop by getting your students passionate about creating stories of their own using the materials in your maker space. They can use many different mediums to create illustrations and inspiration for their stories, which is what a maker space is all about. The book Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert is a great example of using maker space materials to create illustrations in a story. In this book, the narrator sees debris in the shape of fish float by after it rains. Connect this idea to the science concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle, and students can create art with trash and reuse items that they collect out on the playground. In the style of Rain Fish, students can find pictures in the debris and turn it into a story. Even better, they can embed important science concepts in their story to show their learning like the book Sea Bones by Bob Barner. Use a tool like book creatorshadow puppet edu, or pic collage to publish a story with their recycled pictures as the illustrations for their book. You could even use the app Faces iMake to create the illustrations if you didn't have the materials you needed to create pictures with the real items. Lois Ehlert and Bob Barber have other books that would be great introductions to the concept of maker space illustrations in stories:


Leo Lionni is another author that can inspire stories with maker space art. I used this idea when I was a classroom teacher and wrote about it in this blog post (Fairytales and Fables) many years ago. I still love the idea of students writing and illustrating stories in the style of Leo Lionni, but I would update this idea by adding stop motion animation.  
HUE Animation Studio (Green)
During the #InnEdCO18 conference, I won an animation studio from Hue! I was excited to give it a try, so my son and I created a short video to retell part of the story Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse by Leo Lionni. We created the characters using the directions in the video above. Then we used the background from the animation studio to record.

The animation studio had some handy features such as a shadow that showed the last spot you placed objects to make it easier to create your motion. It also had a camera with a stand and bendable neck that positioned the camera (although I think the pictures came out a little distorted). To be honest, I don't think I would buy more of the animation studios. I had trouble setting things up in the beginning, and although I got it to work and my son was SO excited about creating movies, we have made stop motion videos that were just as good with the free iPad app stop motion.  Especially if you want to have access to more than one camera at a time in a classroom, I would definitely stick with iPads. However, I will continue to use the camera with their software since I have it. 

There are a lot of creative opportunities when you let students' imaginations soar. Just give them a few materials and a platform to publish and you will be amazed at what they can write!

CCSS: W.K.2, W.K.3, W.K.6, W.K.8, W.1.2, W.1.3, W.1.6, W.1.8, W.2.2, W.2.3, W.2.6, W.2.8, W.3.2, W.3.3, W.3.6, W.3.8


Math + Art = Origami Frogs 

The girl in this story folds paper into origami characters, which is a great opportunity to do some art and math. One of my favorite origami activities to do in the classroom is a frog jumping contest! Students make origami frogs and measure how far their frogs can jump. It's a great opportunity to have students measure with different tools (rulers, yard sticks, and non-standard measuring tools like cubes and string). I originally got this idea from the resource book Origami Math (above) many years ago. It includes written instructions for folding origami shapes, including the origami frog. I would update this lesson by creating a design sprint for students.

The Engineering Design Process is the methodology I would use to help students create their origami frogs.

How do I create an origami frog? The video above is a great resource. As students iterate this process, they may ask: How can I make my frog jump farther? Higher?

How big/small should I make my frog? What kind of paper should I use? 

Have different materials available for students such as card stock, construction paper, tissue paper, and paper that has been laminated so students can create a plan with the materials that you have available. 

Collect data: Create a graph to keep track of how far/high different types of frogs jump. 
Experiment: How does the size of the frog effect how far it jumps? How does the type of paper effect how far the frog can jump? 

My students decided to improve the design of the back legs, the aerodynamics of the head, as well as the size and type of paper they used. You'll be amazed at their creativity and thinking!

CCSS: 1.MD.A.2, 1.MD.C.4, 2.MD.A.1, 2.MD.A.4, 2.MD.D.9, 2.MD.D.10, 3.MD.B.3, 3.MD.B.4

Don't forget to check back for more ideas in the series Literacy + STEAM= Design Thinking Sprints!
The next featured book will be:


5 Gadgets Under $50 That Every Classroom Needs

Being able to project multiple devices without having to plug them into the projector is a game changer in the classroom! Direct instruction is important, and student engagement is always higher when every student gets to interact with the lesson (Click here to read Who Needs Smartboards When the Whole Class is Engaged?). If you have your teacher computer hooked up to the projector, AirServer allows you to wirelessly project multiple iPads, chromebooks, or computers onto your computer screen, which is projected on the board. That means that you could have 5 different groups solving a math problem on an iPad, and all 5 groups could project their iPad at once to share their answer. Or students publishing a story on book creator using a computer (yes–book creator can be used on the computer now!)  could share what they have so far with the class by projecting wirelessly and quickly. The possibilities are endless and very convenient. This is a must have!

It's time to go wireless! Are you tired of having a tangle of wires everywhere? Do you ever go outside on a beautiful day, but you need sound? Wireless speakers are easy to set up and use. You can place the speaker in the most convenient place in your room (or outside!) no matter where your computer, phone, or iPad is. If you are using a wireless projector, it gives you even more freedom when presenting to the class. Amazon has an inexpensive option that you can also use in the summer time to play tunes at the pool!

I hate buying new headphones every year. Kids are hard on things–that's a fact. Unfortunately, headphones are one of those things in which you have to spend money to save money. Whenever I have tried buying headphones for under $10 each, they have never lasted more than one year–if that. The only headphones I've ever used that have lasted 3 - 5 years are these from ACP Direct:

Califone 2924AVPS Deluxe Stereo Headphones $16.95

Back in the day, I had a listening center that students used with a radio that could play cassette tapes and CDs. Anyone remember that? Listening to stories is still a great way for students to hear fluent reading and comprehend stories, so it's time to upgrade that old listening center! You can use an iPad or computer with an audio jack or splitter so that 6 - 8 students can listen on the same device.  Overdrive (used by libraries) and audible have many options for professional audio books. You can also download options such as Dr. Seuss Videos with QR codes, St. Patrick's Day Videos with QR codes,  and Spring/Easter Read Alouds with QR codes to use at a listening center. Students just use an iPad to scan the QR code and listen. You can also use Thoughtful Log Entries: Making Thinking Visible to have students respond to the stories that they listen to at the listening station. I have used the two splitter options above to make a listening station and they both work. The Belkin RockStar 5-Jack Multi Headphone Audio Splitter is a little more awkward when everyone is plugged in, but it's not a deal breaker. The Labsonic 8 position 3.5mm Stereo Jack Box works best if your listening station is sitting on a desk. 

Labsonic 8 Position 3.5mm Stereo Jack Box $16.95

With more technology comes more cords because . . . you have to plug it all in. Most of the time the outlets in the wall aren't enough to charge everything. I can assure you that not all surge protectors are created equally. I was using the power strips that our school already had (probably from the 1970s), and it kept popping the breaker. It can also be awkward to get everything plugged into power strips that aren't made well. Sometimes the direction of the plug and the amount of room that some plugs need covers two holes, and if the power strip isn't stable enough, it won't lay flat when a lot of cords are plugged into it. The Belkin 12-Outlet Pivot-Plug Power Strip Surge Protector is perfect for plugging in a bunch of cords. It's very stable and the pivoting plugs let you plug in any cord. I know it seems like a small thing, but nobody wants to wrestle with a bunch of unruly cords at the end of a long day. It is worth investing in some nicer surge protectors to protect your devices and make your charging system more efficient. The SHARKK Aluminum Surge Protector with 4 USB Smart Rapid Charge Ports is the one I keep on my desk. The best part is the smart USB ports. You can plug in an iPad, iPhone, or iPad mini, and it automatically detects how much power your device needs so it doesn't overcharge or under charge your devices. I think it's worth investing in both surge protectors!

SHARKK Aluminum Surge Protector 4 Port USB Outlet Extender Power Strip for Home Office Power Strips with 4 USB Smart Rapid Charger Charge Ports and 5 Foot Cord

What gadgets make your classroom more efficient? 
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, and at no cost to you. 


End of Year Activity: Let the Games Begin with Ozobots

Are you looking for something to do at the end of the year that is fun and creative, but still rigorous? Then it's time to break out the Ozobots! 

The 5th graders have worked with Ozobots before, so at the end of the year, we asked them to create a game for the kindergarten and first graders to play on the last days of school using the Ozobots. We started with the Engineering Design Process.

They had to think about their audience and ASK themselves what would kindergartners and first graders like? It needed to be interactive and give the kindergartners and first graders ideas for developing their own game after playing the 5th graders' game. 

Then they had to IMAGINE what the parameters or rules of the game might be,  create a PLAN for their design, then CREATE it!. Next, they had to play their own game to see if it worked or if they needed to make improvements. The things they came up with were so creative! 

They created mazes:

They created races:

Dance competitions:

And magic 8 ball-type games:

They had many more ideas that were better than what I had thought of, and the first graders and kindergarteners loved playing the 5th graders games on the last few days of school!

Next time, I will make my own improvements to this lesson by giving the 5th graders more time to work on their games, test it out on their audience, make improvements after they see how it goes with the kindergartners and first graders, then make improvements again. That would also give our primary students time to play these games, then try to create their own game based on their favorites. I can't wait to do this with students again!

Good luck on your last days of school!