Saturday, August 18, 2012

Children's Engineering Teaches Valuable Skills for the 21st Century

This summer I took a professional development course in children's engineering.  A good definition of engineering might be the use of creativity with math, science, and technology in order to improve life for human beings.  It has the same meaning for elementary school children with the process rather than the final product being of importance.

Children's engineering should not be confused with crafts or art projects that teachers might include in their daily activities.  A craft activity generally consists of ready-made patterns provided with step by step instructions given in order to achieve a specific result.  While the artwork completed within a craft may vary from child to child, the overall look of the project is the same  throughout the classroom.  An art activity might include a child's random painting on a large piece of construction paper.  The teacher's purpose for the painting activity might include the exploration of colors and how they interact when mixed together 
on paper.

Children's engineering might include providing the students with a design brief that includes a list of the available materials to choose from in order to achieve a specified objective.  The objective could be something as simple as making a free standing paper doll or more complex like making moving structures.

During an engineering activity, students are given opportunities to experiment through trial and error until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.  I cannot begin to list the number of state and national standards that are utilized when engineering takes place in the classroom.  It fosters creativity, builds confidence, promotes learning how to work with others, requires hands-on learning, and provides for problem solving opportunities.  

While I was taking the class, we created several engineering projects.  One of the first projects was to create a free standing tower.  The tower had to be least 12 feet high.  We were given paper and tape to create the towers.  We also created supporting structures such as bridges.  A few of the bridges we made are shown above.   Later on in the week, we tried our hands at making transporting structures.  They're shown below.

We made free standing structures which represented famous persons in paper doll form.  Can you guess who they're supposed to be?   

Betsy Ross
Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant

Baseball Player

Here are some free standing critters made at the university.  Aren't they cuties?

We made pop up cards which I hope to have my students make this year.  I'll also be implementing some projects to support engineering within the classroom.  I plan to have the children explore things like a yo-yo, straws, and suction cups and get them thinking about how these things work and what sort of improvements these items have made for mankind.  As part of the course requirements, we needed to create a detailed lesson plan with a design brief which could be used in the classroom.  I created a lesson on water wheels and I plan for the children to design and engineer their own.  It will be interesting to see how this works out in the classroom albeit not so dry!  Thank you for reading!  

Lessons by Molly © 2012  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don't Allow Bathroom Procedures To Go Down the Drain!

As you prepare for a new school year you are inevitably considering your classroom procedures.  Before the first day of school, you will want to consider the procedures to have in place for using the restrooms as well.  If a bathroom is in your classroom, your procedures may be different than for those that don't have one.  Here are a few suggestions for k-2 teachers that don't have toilets in their classrooms.  I have included ideas for both group and individual bathroom trips.

1.  EXPECTATIONS:  Tell the children what you expect them to do in the bathroom.  Don't assume children will flush toilets when you have not told them to do so.  Spell out your expectations!  Do they need to flush the toilet?  Wash their hands?  Use soap?  How much soap?  Get a paper towel?  How many paper towels?  Pick up paper off the floor?  What should they do when supplies such as soap and paper towels are gone?  What other problems should be reported to you?

2.  TOILET ASSIGNMENTS: Assign the children their own stall/toilet number on the first day of school. (The first toilet upon entering the bathroom is number one, the second is number two, and so forth.) For boys this might also include a urinal assignment. Keep a copy of this record for yourself and include it in your substitute package. This procedure can be in place for both individual and whole group restroom trips. If you know something about your students before the first day of school, strategically plan your toilet assignments. Students that need additional supervision by adults should be assigned a stall that is in closest proximity to the adults in charge. Often this would be the first stall. Stall assignment eliminates conflict and disputes between students that would argue over toilets. Pardon my pun, but stall assignments cut down on students "stalling" in the restrooms. You have eliminated the choice factor from the child and made the decision easier. The toilet assignment method also helps keep your students accountable for their bathroom behavior. (Joey will need to explain why he is in the back of the restroom when his toilet assignment is the number one.) Moreover, the children become responsible for the condition of their own toilet. If there are more students than toilets, some children will need to be assigned the same toilet. Of course they will need to take turns using it. It is a good idea to have established with the children that in an emergency they are free to use an alternate toilet. At times their assigned toilet may be out of order or a student from another classroom might be using it.

3.  BATHROOM PASSES:  Decide whether or not you want to use boys' and girls' bathroom passes.  Is it a school-wide requirement that students in hallways carry a pass?  If so, then you'll need them.  If this is not a requirement, determine what your reasons are for bathroom passes. If you're going to use them, place them in close proximity to your classroom door so they can be easily removed and replaced by students.  Make sure to write your name or room number on the passes with a black permanent marker.  This way a pass left behind in the bathroom can be returned. Some teachers do not use bathroom passes because they become a "germ-share".  One teacher's idea to resolve this problem, is to place the pass on their desks instead of taking it into the bathroom.  This also took care of the problem of the passes getting left behind in the bathrooms.  Coiled key chains with laminated labels containing the words "Boys' Pass" or "Girls' Pass" can be attached to the metal rings.  These seem to get lost less frequently than other kinds of passes.  Students wear the pass around their arm, above the elbow.  With this type of pass, students should wash their hands before removing it.  There are also magnetic passes available in local school markets.  Teachers can also make their own by adding an adhesive magnetic business label to the backs.  Many bathroom stall doors have the right kind of metal to make it possible for  children to  place the pass on the door while using the toilet.  The pass can stay on the outside of the door while the child uses the facilities.  Regardless of what type of pass is used, cleaning them on a regular basis should be part of your routine.
4.  FLAG THE TEACHER:  When a child raises his hand and asks to use the bathroom during class, instruction has been disrupted.  A system where the child notifies the teacher non-verbally that he needs to use the restroom will prevent this from happening.  Consider telling the children to stand at the door with the pass in hand, and wait for you to see him.  Signal him with a nod so he knows you are aware he is leaving class and that you have given him permission to do so.
5.  BUDDY OR UNACCOMPANIED:  Some teachers like to have a buddy system by having another student go to the bathroom with the child that initiated the trip.  Usually teachers do this for safety reasons or because they feel it will prevent the student from playing in the bathroom.  It is sort of like sending a patrol officer with the child.  Unfortunately, this method takes two children away from instruction instead of just one.  Instead of preventing off task behavior, it may facilitate it.  A Thrify Teacher has a good idea to prevent this from happening.  The buddy must be of the opposite sex of the child needing the restroom break.  The buddy would wait outside the bathroom.  You can read more about her bathroom procedure ideas here.  Each teacher must consider her own situation and the safety of the students she works with in determining whether or not to utilize a buddy system.
6.  NUMBER OF VACANCIES:  Permit one boy and one girl to make individual trips to the restroom.  If another student has to go, he or she will need to wait until the boy or girl using the bathroom returns.

 7.  SIGN OUT SHEETS:  A restroom sign out/in sheet allows teachers to have a record of who used the bathroom and when.  Prior to leaving the classroom, children mark an "X" beside their name to indicate that they are taking a bathroom break.  A new sheet sign out sheet should be used for each day of the school year with the date on the sheet.  Divide the year into quarters and have the first 45 sheets on a clipboard for the first 45 days of school.  Replace the sheets for the next quarter and so forth.  Save all of the daily bathroom sign out/in sheets.  This can be managed by sending the previous day's sheet to the back of the stack.  If you have students that are using the bathrooms too frequently, you now have a record to collect your data from.  Notifying a parent that, "Betty is using the restroom too often." is not as informative as saying, "According to my records, from September 3rd through October 10th, Betty made 5 to 6 trips to the bathroom each day."  Some children may have medical situations which are causing them to use the bathrooms more often than normal and a sensitive teacher will be mindful of this.  There is a link at the bottom of this post to a sign out/sign in sheet. 
8.  A DRINK AT THE WATER FOUNTAIN:  When using the bathrooms as a whole class, allow children to get a drink at the water fountain after using the toilet.  This reduces the line at the water fountain since it is unlikely that everyone will finish in the bathroom at the same time.  If you do not state whether or not the water fountain privilege carries over to individual bathroom trips, students will assume that it DOES carry over.  It might make classroom management easier when there are no water fountain privileges included with the individual restroom breaks.  Whatever you decide, make it clear to the students.  Don't be vague in this area.  Keeping the children well hydrated is important, especially in the warm weather, but the individual bathroom trip is not the best time for a water fountain trip.  Left on their own, many young children will waste time at the fountain or begin interacting with others they see in the hallway.
Picture Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Remove the Temptation to Play with Water

Picture Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
9.  HAND WASHING:  Usually, hand washing procedures will include the use of one pump or soap from the soap dispenser and the taking of just one paper towel from its dispenser.  Instruct children to rinse soap off of their hands before using the paper towels.  For individual bathroom trips, children should wash their hands in the classroom sink instead of using the one in the bathroom.  Water is such a tempting avenue of play for young children that it is easy for childish minds to wander into the blissful realm of water play in a bathroom to themselves without the supervision of an adult.  Many times a teacher will notice that someone has been away from class for some time only to discover the child happily engaged in waterworks at a bathroom sink.  The bathroom sinks are used when the whole class is taking a bathroom break.
10.  PRACTICE AND REVIEW:  Whatever classroom procedures you put in place, it is important to review them from time to time.  At the beginning of the school year, procedures should be reviewed and practiced everyday.  

The link below will take you to another blog post that has a link for  a set of FREE hall passes including bathroom passes AND a sign out sheet!

Hall Passes

Thank you for reading!

Lessons by Molly © 2012  All rights reserved.