My students love a project! Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating. They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.
The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2. I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art. I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).
On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work. We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits. And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions. “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!
On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art. I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about. They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.
Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write. And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way. For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.
On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.
Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.
The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights. Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights. When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.
But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt. We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room. Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working. And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on. Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.
On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project. She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light. Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!
As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered. All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing. By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work. And we learned some important lessons along the way. The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive. We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker. And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.
Here are few examples of student projects:
We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too! So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects. The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month. We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.
With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials. I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities. Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…