Charlotte's Web ThingLink

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pumpkin Design Challenge

Featuring Guest Author Todd Sinclair

This October, the 5th Grade team at Oster Elementary took on a new project inspired by the unofficial - and awesome - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) annual pumpkin carving contest. Engineers at NASA JPL have carved out an hour of time in October over the last seven years to show off their creativity while participating in this fun team building activity. These engineers take time off from designing and building machines that will explore the farthest reaches of outer space to create pumpkin displays with lasers, lights, robotics, and more.

We brought our idea to our incredible STEAM ToSA, Kaitlin Celestre, who quickly devised a plan to help our students tackle this as a design challenge. We provided the students with sessions to explore a variety of tools, including Little Bits, Snap Circuits, and Microbits, with the goal of inspiring design ideas to include in their pumpkin creations. Student teams were then given time to brainstorm a pumpkin design, sketch out their ideas, and develop a list of the electronic components and other items that they would use to further enhance their designs.

Families pitched in with pumpkins, carving tools, and man power to gut the pumpkins on the first day of the building process. Students worked on their designs during the two days before our annual Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 20th. Day One was full of carving, pumpkin painting, and testing the functionality and placement of the electronic components. Day Two was spent finalizing everything from Day One and troubleshooting any issues that arose. Students were fully engaged from the start, and throughout the design process they demonstrated effective teamwork, collaboration, persistence, creativity, and problem solving. Team after team found ways to resolve unexpected design issues to help bring their visions to life. The final projects were incredible.

Follow Todd on Twitter: @sinclairt7

Link to NASA JPL News Release
Link to video on NASA JPL Contest

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Computer Science

Jennie Reynolds is thrilled to be teaching the first year-long computer science (CS) class at Union Middle School this year. While she does not have an extensive background in CS (she took Basic C as an undergrad to fulfill a math requirement), she embraced the words of her master teacher - if you are a good teacher you can teach anything. She realized the truth in this when she taught a Minecraft class four years ago. Initially Jennie was terrified that she did not know enough about the program to effectively support the class. Instead, she learned that she often had to get out of the way of her students - they were passionate about their work and the learning was naturally embedded in the process as they brought their ideas to life. 

She attended a training over the summer that was hosted by, which was geared toward teachers who were just starting to teach CS. The free 6th-10th grade curriculum provided by, Computer Science Discoveries, has been fantastic. The first two weeks were completely unplugged and students focused on problem solving and culture building to instill patience and perseverance. 

All of her 7th and 8th grade CS students are in it together regardless of skill level, and they are always collaborating to support each other’s projects. They embrace the idea that even a student with more experience in CS can learn from everyone else in the class by working together. When they presented their websites last week, every single student had someone else to thank for making their designs work. 

With the recent release of the new California K-12 Computer Science Standards, Jennie is grateful for the opportunity to pilot this class. It is designed to introduce students to many of the key areas of CS and it will give them enough experience within each to understand what a career in any of these fields might entail. To further support this, Jennie will bring in guest speakers throughout the year, including a panel of women in software engineering from Salesforce and a genetic science graduate student from UC San Francisco. Her students are looking forward to the rest of the year, which includes work on animation and video games, empathy-based design challenges, the use of data in society, and physical computing.

Follow Jennie on Twitter: @ReynoldsMath

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Guided Reading

Nikki Grist teaches kindergarten at Alta Vista Elementary. Two summers ago the entire Alta Vista kinder team participated in the first Union School District Guided Reading cohort, which was led by Susan Lavelle (@SusanLavelleUSD). The AV kinder team embraced Guided Reading and they were amazed by the growth all of their reading groups made last school year (some students grew from Fountas and Pinnell level AA to F, for example). This year they are excited to build on that success.

Nikki collaborated with fellow Alta Vista kinder teacher Christine Barbara to develop a schedule that allows them to meet with all five of their leveled student groups on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Students have two separate rounds of centers on each of these days. They start with their Guided Reading block and then break for snack. This is followed by a second round of centers where students work on other subjects such as math and science.

The opportunity to work with every student in a small group setting daily is crucial to the success they have experienced with Guided Reading. Each student group receives differentiated instruction that is designed to meet their specific learning needs, which can range from reinforcing letter sounds and rhyming to reading comprehension practice.

Christine and Nikki have found that they are able to work with the reading groups while the rest of their students are totally engaged. At the other centers, students complete a variety of activities including Word Work, writing practice, reading leveled readers, and listening to stories on iPads from resources like Raz-Kids and Epic!. Students can also use QR codes to access sites like Storyline Online, which features stories that are read by actors and actresses.

The kinder team follows a number of online resources to help them find activities that they can bring to students during the Guided Reading block. For example, This Reading Mama, A Dab of Glue Will Do, and Hello Literacy are sites that offer Word Work ideas almost daily. They also exchange ideas with many educators on Twitter and Instagram as they continue to build their professional learning networks.

In the images below you can see examples of how they organize their days to make sure they have time to work with each group of students. This represents a one hour block of time and each of the three rotations take about 15 minutes to complete.

Monday and Thursday Schedule

Tuesday and Friday Schedule

Follow Nikki on Twitter: @AVGrasshoppers

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Design Thinking Challenge

Alyssa Micciche is a 4th grade teacher at Noddin Elementary. Two years ago her master teacher, Amy Wyosnick of Covington Elementary in Los Altos, suggested a twist on a familiar book, Island of the Blue Dolphins. She was excited to share her success with a unit that embraced Design Thinking. Her students were more engaged with the activities and made long-lasting connections throughout the year.

Alyssa loved the idea and ran with it last year. Students were excited for the design challenge that was waiting for them at the end of the unit. The support of Noddin’s STEAM ToSA, Heather Koleszar, made planning for it easy. After highlighting the importance of empathy Alyssa immediately saw connections between her students and the text, and specifically the main character, Karana. They identified what Karana needed while she was on the island and began to develop ways to meet those needs. When it was time to prototype their ideas Alyssa brought her students to the Makerspace to take full advantage of all of the available resources.

Throughout the process students embraced the growth mindset and worked together to learn from their mistakes. To conclude the unit students wrote reflections, and Alyssa was amazed at how well they were able to reflect on their experiences and make connections to their own learning. Alyssa observed that her students continued to make these connections throughout the school year, especially when embracing failure and working to overcome challenges.

Over the summer Alyssa was collaborating with other teachers during the USD EduProtocols and Notice and Note workshops. As they looked over the Island of the Blue Dolphins unit one of her fellow 4th grade teachers, Mikayla Schott from Alta Vista Elementary, suggested that they take the Design Thinking unit and turn it into a HyperDoc. As they worked together to refine the unit, the 4th grade ELA Bridge Map demonstrated how to seamlessly integrate the EduProtocols and Notice and Note strategies into the learning process.

Alyssa has seen the same excitement in her students this year. They are in the midst of reading the story, and the number of connections they are making to the book using the Notice and Note fiction signposts is amazing. Their work is aided by the wonderful Notice and Note bookmarks created by Justin Preza, a 4th grade teacher at Lietz Elementary, which have been invaluable as her students become familiar with the signposts. Check these out, along with other Notice and Note tools, in a one-stop-shop HyperDoc created by Justin and Danielle Damato, a 3rd grade teacher at Lietz. You can see a preview of this HyperDoc below.

For an introduction to Design Thinking, check out this blog post by Laura Guevara on