Friday, April 24, 2015

Hands-on fun: Roald Dahl meets the makerspace!

It seems like no coincidence that even as advances in technology make many aspects of life more intangible, deeply satisfying traditional pursuits such as oral storytelling and handicrafts are gaining tremendous popularity and respect. Very often this results in an intriguing fusion of old and new: listening to personal stories not around a campfire or on a neighbor's porch, but via a podcast that brings you voices of people you'd never otherwise cross paths with. Similarly, makerspaces meld remarkable new materials with time-honored skills.

In 3rd grade we combined literature appreciation (my personal favorite Roald Dahl novel, Danny the Champion of the World) with Design Thinking and a big dose of makerspace fun.

I don't want to spoil the end of the book for anyone who is unlucky enough not to have read it, but the challenge we took on was designing a better mouse pheasant trap!

Step one: researching and taking notes about pheasants. Danny's father is a poacher, which means he has a deep understanding of the animals he hunts and the environment they inhabit.

Step two: collaborate with your partner to design a trap that will foil greedy Mr. Hazell's plans but not do excess damage to the pheasants or their habitat.

Step three: receive constructive criticism from another team. Offer the same in return. Does your trap show creative use of limited resources? Does it exhibit knowledge of pheasant biology? Respect for the earth? Is it likely to work? Consider the feedback and make improvements!

Step four: build, test, tweak, repeat!

Some of our young makers will be exhibiting their traps at the NWAIS Makerfest next month. Several teams are already hard at work creating extensions to their projects--programming simulations, using 3D printers, and more!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Brendan Buckley's Book Club & Everything in It

Multiracial people represented the fastest growing group in the 2010 census, showing how far we've come since Loving v. Virginia, which in 1967 made interracial marriages legal everywhere in the US! My own parents' interracial marriage took place two years before this date - and Sundee Frazier's parents' one year after it. Her writing is rooted in a deep understanding of identity and shifting social values.

I was excited to bring Sundee to one of our faculty meetings a few years ago, to discuss how we can create the most welcoming and supportive environment for our multiracial students. And it was a thrill to bring her back to meet some of our kids!

Our second 3rd/4th grade book club focused on her book Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It, a funny and moving middle grade novel that is all about curiosity and discovery.

Imagining a different personal history - one in which her interracial family had a less harmonious relationship - Sundee wrote about Brendan, a biracial boy growing up in Tacoma. His passion for rocks and minerals forges a bond with the grandfather he'd never met and in the process helps to heal old family wounds.

This book sparked some thought-provoking discussions among the students on prejudice, learning from mistakes, blame and forgiveness. We also had the thrill of welcoming Sundee to our final meeting. She showed up with a rock and mineral collection and was even wearing a necklace made from the famous Ellensburg blue agate! Sundee described her path to fulfilling her dream of becoming an author, and shared some of her early work from childhood and grad school. The conversation was lively!

During an earlier book club meeting, students were inspired by Brendan's own "Book of Big Questions about Life, the Universe and Everything in It" (in which he wrote down all the questions he was musing about). Here are some of the ones they came up with for their own books:

  • How long have people been reading books?
  • What is the area of the earth?
  • How do people make hot chocolate powder mix?
  • How many languages are there in the world?
  • Why do people act differently to please others?
  • Why do people do mean things?
  • Why do some people hate math?
  • Why isn't there school on Saturday?
Brendan's story is a reminder to all of us to remain curious and open-hearted as we go through life.