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Jellybean and Toothpick Structure STEM Challenge

Jellybean and toothpick STEM challenge - building a structure that supports weight

For one of our most recent STEM classes at co-op we took advantage of Dollar Tree jellybeans and an overabundance of toothpicks. The kids have had so much fun with our hands-on challenges and learning about the best ways to build structures that are weight bearing and can stand a little pressure.

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Initially we divided up into four teams of 2-3 students each but gave the kids the option of combining with one other team to build their jellybean and toothpick structure. The kids decided that was definitely the better option and quickly moved together. They also realized it provided them with more jellybeans for eating, should they not used two entire bags for their structure (smart kids).

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One of the BEST things I heard came immediately after the kids combined (and while I eavesdropped on their strategy talk). Both teams were discussing the best way to build a structure that would support the most weight and still have a good height. From each team, the words “a triangle allows the strongest support” was heard. (Yes, they are listening!!)

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KEVA Planks were used as a sort of ‘holding pen’ for one of the teams – they didn’t want to risk floor contamination of jellybeans that may possibly be edible later. The other team obviously had no regard for where their beans ended up.

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Both teams worked with a triangular setup for their structures, although one took a more systematic approach, setting up an assembly line of sorts. Team members started the process of putting a toothpick into a jellybean and creating piles, while others created pre-made triangles for another team member to work into their structure.

 

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Overall both teams had a blast with this challenge.  One structure was definitely more organized and that may be the team that wasn’t distracted by eating jellybeans along the way. 

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While Team 1’s structure was taller overall, it came to a definite peak and would not support as much weight when added (we stacked file folders on each structure to see how many it would hold). Team 1 eventually lost their triangular structure as their building continued( see the note on jellybean consumption), lost focus, and that ended up being their downfall.

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Team 2 had a much wider and elaborate base design (neater overall) thanks to their assembly line process. While their structure didn’t reach quite as much height as Team 1’s design, it supported more than twice the weight since it was able to more evenly distribute the weight when stacked.

(And jellybeans were consumed by all).

Such a fun and sticky challenge. Incidentally, picking up a box of 500 toothpicks that are spilled can be pointy and painful.

Additional STEM Challenges

Umbrella Challenge – STEM Activity for Kids

Umbrella STEM Challenge - create a shelter to keep a tissue dry

This past week in our co-op class we worked on another ‘instant challenge’ together, breaking up into four teams to create a structure that would keep a tissue dry. Out of all of the projects we have worked on so far, this one seemed to click with the kids.

Each week we have divided into groups, raced to finish a project using the few items provided, and at times there has been grumbling of “they copied our idea” or frustration when what seemed like a great plan literally crumbled to pieces. While not everyone was successful in their building endeavor, the umbrella project brought everyone together and helped the kids see the importance of teamwork.

The Umbrella Challenge

We brought a large Rubbermaid bin into class, 2 quarts of water, a colander, a tissue, and a container (to keep the tissue from touching the bottom of the bin).

Challenge: Create a structure that would keep the tissue dry when water was poured (like rain) over it with a set amount of materials.

Materials: 2 pieces of paper, 3 rubber bands, 4 pipe cleaners, 3 playing cards, 2 pencils, 2 paper cups, 4 pieces of tape, 5 cotton balls, and 3 rubber bands.

Also needed: water, colander, tissues, and a large plastic tub.

Team Results

The kids were broken up into four teams and given a short amount of time to chat with their teammates and decide on a design idea. As soon as they had an idea they set to work on their designs. The structures could be tested at any time by the students, but had to keep the tissue dry when the teachers tested it.

Team #1

Umbrella Challenge

One of the creative things this team did was use the cotton balls as the corner bases, attaching them to the pipe cleaners. While their structure was stationary on the carpet, when placed in the tub, it slipped around, so they added them to give stability, knowing when the water fell in the tub it would be soaked up into the cotton balls and give it a little more weight.

They also poked the pencils through the corners of the paper to give it a good arch and place the playing cards on the top so the paper wouldn’t soak through as quickly.

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We poured the water over top and their design was successful – the tissue stayed dry. Out of all of the supplies, they didn’t use the cups or rubber bands, but did use everything else.

Team #2

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This team didn’t use all of their supplies (rubber bands), but created a narrower shelter, using the pencils as the base and paper cups to provide a ‘run-off’ area for the water. Overall, they didn’t have a solid structure and needed to use the tub to support the ends of their shelter (while it was supposed to be free-standing).

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When the water was poured over, the structure was too narrow, so the tissue did absorb some water. While in theory it did seem good, the overall design didn’t quite work.

Team #3

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This team earned some points for creativity and strength. Their legs were very stable (good idea rolling the paper to create a stronger leg that wouldn’t get floppy when wet as quickly). They used almost all of their materials (they chose not to use the cups).

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Although they had a great base to start with, their structure wasn’t wide enough to cover the tissue when the water was poured over it and ended up soaking wet.

Team #4

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While team 4 didn’t quite use all of their material creatively (ahem – the rubber bands were dropped on the top so they could say they has included them), they did have a great base for their umbrella using two pencils as stability to the pipe cleaners looped through the corners to lift it up above the tissue. Their top was also thick so the water would stay off the tissue (using cards and two sheets of paper with the paper cups cut up inside to provide extra protection). Not a beautiful structure, but it stayed together!

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When the water was poured over their structure, the tissue stayed dry!

The Importance of Teamwork

While the teams were busy working, there were a few complaints of ‘they are copying us’ (even though the other team wasn’t looking) and frustration when what seemed like a good idea, turned out to be a flop and plans had to be re-worked (and still flopped).

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Although I had seen two of the teams beginning structures, I pulled out my own set of supplies and decided to put something together quickly. Ironically, my structure was very similar to one of the other teams (team 4) that I hadn’t seen until we all came together as a group.

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My structure used the paper as the ‘umbrella’ with the three cards together underneath and held up the the pipe cleaners. The rubber bands were used to keep the pencils closer together so the paper would arch and not spread out too far when it became wet. Not too shabby for about 4 minutes of quickly building.)

As a class we had a great talk about how there are times when we may be working on an idea or concept, have the same supplies or focus, and each of us may have some similar plans, but may tweak it in a different way. It isn’t copying, but sometimes just happens. The process of discovering what does and doesn’t work often leads us to a better way of creating something.

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Coming together as a group, we took the best ideas from each team and built a structure using those designs and had an even better structure. The cups were cut in half and we added slits to create addition ‘run-off’ areas and also provide a way to keep the paper in a tent style. The three playing cards were bent in half over the paper to create a more waterproof peak.

Note: We didn’t have enough time to fully build it, but would have added the pencil and pipe cleaner base from Team 4 to keep the paper up and out of the water.

While individual teams had good ideas, together, as a whole, the best one was created. It was really a great ‘learning’ moment and helped diffuse some of the frustration between the kids – team building at its best.

A Few Other STEM Activities You May Enjoy

Why Your Homeschool Needs a Rest Time

Why your homeschool needs a rest time

When hearing the words ‘rest time,’ it takes me back to my years as a preschool teacher when the kids all had a nice mat, a warm blanket, and sleep drifted over (most of) the kids. There are always a few rowdies in the bunch!

As we started our homeschool journey, rest time was ALWAYS a part of the equation. Our kids were young. I was exhausted with the little ones (we had 4 kids 5 and under) and it was definitely a non-negotiable in our day. Now we are years down the road, our oldest is 14, and rest time is STILL a part of our day.

Here’s the thing – as homeschoolers, our family is around each other all.the.time. Pretty much 24/7. That can be exhausting, especially for kids (and moms) that need quiet to recharge. So much surrounds us that can overstimulate and push us over the edge, so to speak. For kids that are extroverts, well, it always good to practice giving others space as well – and they need the down time too.

Think we’re crazy? I promise you, I’m not! You NEED a rest time in your day, moms!! We can’t keep up a crazy pace and not feel like we’re going crazy ourselves!

Somehow the last few months we’ve gotten out of the habit of having our afternoon rest time. And it has truly shown in attitudes (mine and the kids) and mental states (that would be my sanity – keeping it real!). While I’ve had people ask how we can afford to take the time out of our day, I can honestly assure you, if anything, it has made things run so much more smoothly in our house.

What Rest Time Looks Like for Us

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Rest. Sitting down. Feet up. That should sum it up, but each of the kids typically heads to their bed (if they want to sleep, go for it!). Rest time an opportunity for everyone to slow down and have a break from each other. I’m guessing my kids aren’t the only ones who can get on a sibling’s last nerve (or mine). The break and space apart is very beneficial to attitudes all around.

This includes mom! My spot is a cozy chair or under a blanket on my bed with a nice cup of coffee or tea. Books are almost always a part of my rest time, especially since I have a wonderful pile of books to read! I might even sneak in an episode of my favorite show without the kids peeking over my shoulder (Shhh!! PBS fans will understand, right?).

The kids are encouraged to grab a book (for fun – not school), listen to audiobooks with a sibling (or with headphones), listen to music, or play – QUIETLY. It’s not a time to be rowdy and fool around. The boys pull out a bin of LEGOS on their beds and dig through that while they listen to audiobooks they picked out from the library or build with some other fun toy.

Puzzles, quiet games…think of all those hardly used manipulatives you’ve stashed away. Pull out art supplies and sketch pads. You know what things are special for your kids (or hiding in your closet).

The impact of rest time was especially apparent to me today as I declared the hour of 2 – 3 pm sacred and the kids pulled out sleeping bags and hammocks and set up camp on the back deck (the girls may be a bit excited about their hammocks). They had books and stayed outside snuggled in their blankets (it was 48 degrees) for almost 2 hours. And do you know what happened the majority of the time – laughter. It literally brought tears to my eyes because we had a ROUGH morning. ROUGH. When rest time was well-past over, the kids all came in and attitudes were great toward each other. I may have also been completely relaxed because of hearing the calm and camaraderie between the four of them. My time was spent curled up reading two great books:  The Life-Giving Home and Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World.

A complete win-win all around. (And my hubby may be extremely grateful for my sanity too).

What Our Rest Time is NOT

  • Catch-up on housework is a no-no. Rest time is NOT a time for me to scramble around the house doing all those little things that I’ve been putting off and finally remember to do. I have a list next to me where I can jot down notes if something comes to mind, but otherwise, computer is off.
  • Schoolwork is put aside. Yes, the kids sometimes get behind, but this isn’t a punishment time for them when they need to catch up on every last little thing. The breather is from all things that bog us down mentally and physically. The schoolwork will still be there when we’re done (much to their dismay).
  • Rest time is NOT a time to fight and argue. It’s a time to play or rest quietly (or see any of the above. Noise levels need to be minimal. If a fight erupts…well, that would definitely cross a line (it has happened a time or two) and there are repercussions. Don’t mess with the resting mama (grins).

Plan Your Own Rest Time

Why your homeschool needs a daily rest time

Does a daily rest time sound like something your family (and you) could use? Here are a few suggestions to get started.

  1. Decide what the ‘guidelines’ for rest time will be. Is it resting on beds? Playing quietly allowed?How long is the time? How loud can the kids get? Where do kids need to stay (in rooms, a playroom, etc…)?
  2. Figure out your routine. When during your day will you have rest time? Each family has a different rhythm, especially during different seasons of life. If you are making it a daily ritual, maybe you could end it by having a snack together? (There was a period of time where I made homemade cookie batter and froze it in small balls. Each day before rest time I took out 2 cookie balls per kid and popped them in the oven for a yummy treat at the end of rest time).
  3. Make it special. For younger children, it may be helpful to put together a basket of activities, or busy bags, audiobooks, and more that will keep them occupied. Some days the kids take turn cuddling up with me and just chatting over a cup of hot chocolate.
  4. Be consistent. I promise – it is worth every moment. Whether it be 30 minutes or 2 hours, a little bit of breathing room allows everyone a chance to reset, relax, and approach the rest of the day with more energy!

Laundry and housework can wait (I promise, it will still be there when you finish resting – it’s sad, but true). You though, will be in a much better mental state to tackle those piles!

Rest time in your day ultimately puts you ahead in the long run. We aren’t sprinting toward an invisible finish line – we’re in this for the long haul! And I promise – you CAN do this!

 

Share Your Thoughts!

Does your family have a rest time? What tips do you have to offer or what routines do you have in place?

Another post you may enjoy…10 Things to Eliminate from Your Homeschool.

10 things to eliminate from your homeschool


Cup Holder STEM Challenge

Cup holder #STEM challenge project for kids

If you were given a piece of paper, tinfoil, six straws, two paperclips, two pieces of string, two pipe cleaners, three mailing labels, and an envelope – and then had five minutes – would you be able to build a structure that could support two cups while getting both cups off the ground and as far apart from each other as possible? Years ago our girls did this same Cup Holder STEM  challenge together with much success, so I thought it would be fun to try again on a larger scale.

This semester I am working with a group of six graders in our co-op in a STEM or building class. One of the things that our family (and another co-op class) enjoyed in the past were Instant Challenges. Essentially, the children are given a set of objects and a challenge to build something specific within an allotted amount of time. The bulk of our Instant Challenge STEM ideas come from this site and we tweak them to make them work for us. The main thing I love about these challenges are they involve simple (and inexpensive) items that are easy to find and give some fun results in a short amount of time.

The Cup Holder Challenge

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For our first class, we introduced the overall structure of what we would be working on and broke the kids up into four teams (class of eleven, so one team has only two). Each team had at least one boy and one girl to balance it out. The kids were ‘scored’ on teamwork first and then based on completion of the challenge.

In all honesty, the challenge didn’t go quite as easily as I (or the kids) thought it was – a bit of a surprise to me, but I do think we figured out the why behind our issue…read on!

Education

Breaking Up into Teams

Each team (between 2-3 children) was given 2 minutes to come up with a design, 6 minutes to work on their cup holder structure, and then show how their structures worked, compare designs, and make improvement suggestions to other teams or for their own structure.

Challenge: Create a structure that holds two cups as high as possible and as far apart as possible. Each team has 2 minutes to design, 7 minutes to create, and 1 minute to test their structure.

Materials: 6 straws, 1 piece of paper, a piece of tinfoil, 3 mailing labels, 2 paperclips, 2 pieces of string, 1 envelope, 2 pipe cleaners, and 5 pennies

The Results

One of the things that I love about these challenges is seeing the creativity and difference that each group comes up with in their designs. Even though they each have the same set of supplies, their brains are all whirling in different directions and putting those items together in alternate ways.

As each of the groups were working, the other mom and I walked around the room observing, offering suggestions if needed, and giving time updates.

Group 1

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Out of all of the groups, Group 1 was the only one to have a completed structure at the end of the original challenge time period. They were able to transfer their structure to the middle of the room, set it up, explain their building process, and support the two cups.

They wrapped their paper in tinfoil and added the envelope for extra support on the main ‘shelf’ of their structure. Pipe cleaners and string were used to hold the straw legs together.

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Their main focus was the base support, which definitely worked to their advantage. While it wasn’t raised from the floor as much as they wanted, it was a solid structure as long as the straws were all balancing properly.

Completed structure: cups were 6“ off the floor and ” apart.

Group 2

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This group almost had a structure that supported the cups, but the moment they let go of the cups, their structure tipped over. They built for height, but had a base that wasn’t sturdy enough, despite the tinfoil, to support the two cups.

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Their paper and envelope were rolled in a cone shape, with tinfoil as their base support. The straws were then adhered to the cone using the mailing labels.

Overall their concept was good, but not quite there. Their ‘aha’ moment came during our group suggestion time (see below) when they were able to modify it a bit based on a recommendation from another team.

Completed structure: cups were 0“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Group 3

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This team had some fun ideas and creative ways to hold things together (paper clips pushed through the straws), but their overall structure ended up with zero height. They tried to connect the straw and have them in an elongated “U” shape, but then they couldn’t get their straws to stay up and support weight.

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They also used up several of their supplies (by rolling or crumpling), so there really wasn’t much help that could be given to create a working structure. They had a great attitude about their mistakes.

Completed structure: cups were 0“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Group 4

Cup Holder Stem Challenge

This team was the smallest of the four, and while the two started out with a good idea (again wanting to build it as tall as they could), they quickly realized they didn’t have enough base support when it came time to balance cups on either side of their structure.

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They ended up trying to use the straws in a triangle-shaped base, which did work well to give support, but they weren’t able to get any distance between the two cups and instead stacked them on top of each other.

Completed structure: cups were 3“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Making Improvements and Suggestions

As we came together as a group, some of the kids were a bit frustrated their structures weren’t completed. Three of the teams were given an extra six minutes to continue building – and they still had nothing that really worked. Many of them had already used the bulk of their supplies in a way that couldn’t be recycled (tinfoil crumpled up or paper ripped), so they were stuck.

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Each team was given a chance to explain their initial idea and what they thought worked best or didn’t work how they envisioned. We then talked through what they could have tried differently and what may have been a better use of their resources. Overall it was a very encouraging time for the kids and they definitely walked away with some ideas to build it better. One group (Group 2) took a few minutes to tweak their design by cutting the bottom of their cone and spreading out the bottom of the paper and returned a few minutes later with a working structure!

What We Realized

While the bulk of our groups didn’t have a completed structure at the end of the challenge (which was puzzling to me at first), we realized that many of them were over-thinking their designs. Rather than focusing on a stable structure, they focused on making their structures be the one that put the cups the highest off the ground so they could earn more points. They could have kept it very simple (made a more table-like structure) and even gotten it done more quickly.

We also spent some time talking about how in real life things are built and require support in various ways (bridges, pyramids, etc…). The kids thought for our next challenge they need more time to design and build, but I’m honestly leaning more toward the lesser of the time so they can keep their designs simple and get done what needs to be accomplished. We’ll keep you posted on further challenges in the upcoming weeks!

Comic Strip Illustrations for History – Free Printables

comic strip illustrations for history - 12 page printable download Homeschool Creations

One of the BEST things that we’ve ever done for our history time has been letting the kids illustrate their history lessons. While taking notes works well for the older ones at times, more often than not, they really enjoy sketching out what they are learning.

Here’s the thing – they are recalling SO much more! At the end of our lessons, they are cracking up and retelling me more information from the heart of our lessons, and their recall is stretching far beyond what it has in the past. All thanks to a simple comic strip style piece of paper.

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We’ve used coloring pages in the past to go along with our history studies as well as letting the kids build with Legos, but these pages for illustrating what they ‘hear’ from our reading have been a wonderful compromise because they appeal to the kids’ artistic side (and it is so much more quiet compared to the stirring of Legos!).

Coloring pages, Legos, and other ideas all  have their time and place during our lesson time, don’t get me wrong! We haven’t thrown out every other method, but while the kids are enjoying this way to learn and recall history, we are going to run with it!

Illustrating history with comic strips {%{% Homeschool Creations-5

The kids are all using stick figures and just a plain ol’ No. 2 pencil for their sketching (we can thank Grapevine for the stick figure love). Above you can see McKenna’s work when we were talking about the ancient Egyptians and the process of mummification. (I may have cracked up when I saw the picture of Pharaoh in a not-so-living state.)

Because I was getting tired of sketching out grid after grid on blank paper for them (mainly Kaleb) every single day, I put together a collection of comic strip style templates for them to use when illustrating their lessons.

comic strip illustration sample pages - Homeschool Creations

There are 12 different layouts in the pdf file (linked below). Some of the pages are in landscape format (our favorite) and several in portrait (the file will appear all landscape, so just pay attention to the placement of the lines where kids can write the lesson topic and the date or their name). Since Kaleb doesn’t draw quite as many pictures, there are some with only 12 squares, several with rectangles for larger scenes, and a few with up to 20 squares for illustrating.

comic strip illustration printables for history {%{% Homeschool Creations

Download the Comic Strip Templates HERE.

 

Hope these are a help to you all as well!

10 Reasons to Use a Kindle Fire for Homeschool

10 reasons to use a kindle fire for homeschool - Homeschool Creations

The Kindle Fire has become one of our go-to resources during our homeschool time and is one of our favorite homeschool supplies. Aside from the lovely price point (psst – don’t miss the deal below!), there are many reason to LOVE the convenience of the Kindle Fire.

Kindle fire pre-order for $50

Currently the Kindle Fire 8GB 7”  has a GREAT pre-order price – $49.99! Click here to find out more!

Reasons to Use a Kindle Fire for Homeschool

Classic eBooks are often free (or greatly discounted) – as a go along for our high school literature class, this has been a fabulous resource! We can bookmark places in the ebooks, highlight portions to remember (without messing up a paper book), notes can be typed along.

Curriculum eBooks can be easily loaded onto the Kindle and save shelf space. Several of the programs that we use offer an ebook version (both our Literature and Geography classes did last year). We loaded the eBook version onto the Kindle for our daughter to use, and the physical copy went on the shelf for me to reference. 

Clickable links are easy to navigate when you are already using a device. This may seem obvious, but there are books that offer links in them and while a physical copy means I need to type out the URL, we can just click through and see the link.

Schoolwork while traveling is much easier (and lighter). The Kindle takes up much less room and allows for more freedom when we are on the road.

Kindle ebooks are often cheaper than paperback versions – and readily accessible. While we take advantage of our library all the time, sometimes we need a book a little more quickly and can find it very cheap (especially the classics!). They are all books we can keep and save for the future too! Our library is over 1/2 hour away, so the time and gas we save purchasing an eBook sometimes outweighs the free library borrowing. Don’t forget too that your library may offer eBooks to borrow!

Finding sheet music and tuning the guitar is simple for music. Our oldest is working on guitar lessons, and her Kindle has become invaluable to her as she practices. She can tune her guitar using an app and quickly find needed sheet music as well.

Listening to music while working is helpful. Sometimes the schoolroom can get a little crazy, so our oldest pops in  headphones and listens to her favorite music to keep surrounding distractions to a minimum.

A thesaurus and dictionary are always at hand! Much to my children’s chagrin, they really have no excuse for using weak words in their papers (grins). I’m a stickler for having them expand their vocabulary, so those are two tools that are frequently used as apps.

Parental controls are available to set, including times for the device to ‘shut off’ – not that we ever have to worry about that (wink).

Video clips or online tutorials can be found when needed. There are times when I am working with one of our other children and our oldest needs a little math help. She often will hop on YouTube quickly to find a tutorial for the problem. We also use it to look up video clips that fit in with our history studies. Our boys may be rather happy to look up LEGO building ideas (grins).

 

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We aren’t big on apps overall (call me a mean mom) and have kept our Kindle Fires primarily for schoolwork, although Pinterest browsing and email time are also allowed via the Kindle. While our kids don’t have their own Kindles (they are shared devices), it has allowed for a little more freedom and independence for our older children – and a better understanding of how easy it is to get sucked into various devices…watching the time disappear.

What ways has a Kindle helped your homeschool time? 

* Kindle Fire images courtesy of Amazon