Build Day!

September 22, 2016 at 11:44 AM Leave a comment

This is a day I want to remember in the nursing home. An ordinary Thursday with music playing and the kids absolutely absorbed in building their cool shoebox houses, sounds of tape unfurling, the rattle of foil and mylar, the shh of spray paint, and worrying clouds of overspray drift past the open door. A scuttle of leaves on this first crispness of autumn, and I’m dancing to the music playing as they work. No one notices and I get to keep a gentle eye on what they are doing without either being bored or hovering too close. What pleasure.

I remember seeing stuff like this when I was a beginning teacher and being first enchanted – yeah! I could do that – and then when I was a little more experienced “Right. No. She must work with brainwashed angels.” 5th and 2nd period are my crazy classes, boys with that run-away-to-the-open-hills look in their eyes, alert for any way to fidget and use spray paint and box cutters inappropriately. I love them, I re-frame it as ‘quirky’ and this project capitalizes on that energy.

There are no brainwashed angels in here, but lots are so well brought up they thank me for each piece of equipment they ask for, and say goodbye to me by name most days as they crowd out of the door. It’s incredibly sweet and I feel wildly fortunate to be working here. Of course, of COURSE it’s so much easier to work with a population where students come to school with breakfast, school supplies and for the most part, parental support of their success and of the school. I know that, and yet, they are still 12 year olds at the 12 year old stage of development. So what we do here in Orinda IS relevant and possible in more diverse populations of children too. Because when kids want to stay in class, there’s your ultimate management carrot.

The nuts and bolts of the set up: The design day has them talking about how they will apply the principals of heat transfer to features of their house that will tend to reduce heat. We share an article “Cooling Your Home Naturally” and you can see the detailed lesson plan here. They also have to design at least one experiment where they make one change to their design ex. What is the effect of no foil on the shoe box temperature?

I have tubs of the most likely materials they will want. Quite a few want to bring in stuff from home and that’s fine. Then other odds and ends, I just find with them around the lab and don’t stress about trying to think of everything. I do try to ration enough of the more expensive, desirable consumables like spray paint and duct tape so there is enough for each period. Sometimes we run out of something. It’s not the end of the world – we find a work-around. Or I scam something from Marshall. This more relaxed attitude to supplies is key to my sanity. Seriously. Don’t over think it, don’t shop the whole of Orchard Supplies. (Note to self.)

I start class with re-focusing them on the challenge: A shoe box house with the lowest temperature rise. There must be at least one door and 1 window that let light through. I give a small post-it 1″x1.5″- as the minimum size. The whole rig must pack into the shoe box for easy storage. They have 1 hour build time with 5 minute warning and 5 minutes for clean up at the end of class, just like “Cake Wars”.

Safety, arggh! In the end, I cannot possibly anticipate every danger. But all of them have used dangerous tools before. This will not always be true of course. Even if not, they are dying to be trusted. So we talk about being organized and focused on what you are doing. Tidy work areas, being comfortable as you cut. Cutting toward yourself with box cutters. I count out and count back the box cutters obvs. None missing yet…

Spray paint is so fun. Much quicker and easier than painting boxes with brushes. But give them eye protection and have them spray downwind (and explain what that means).

Bubble wrap. I am an addict along with 96.3% of the population, so one of the prizes for winning the cool house competition is a 1ft square of bubble wrap to pop and they have to hold off until then or I will be snarling a corner like Golem, cracking plastic bubbles.

The warning for being kicked out of class is the talk at the start. If I see off task behavior, we have a chat about looking as if you are working – an important life skill. And look, here’s the VP visiting, I’m off about the room looking as if I’m working instead of writing this blog 🙂


Entry filed under: Class Management, Cool the School Project, Physics Topics, Project Based Learning. Tags: , , , , , .

Working Less, Kids Learning More with PBL The Cool Box Comp.

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