Playdough Provocations: Inventor’s Workshop!

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If you are looking for a way to jazz up the materials at your playdough table, I have a tried and tested provocation that I’m sure your students will love: The Inventor’s Workshop. I stumbled upon this amazing idea while perusing one of my favourite blogs: The Imagination Tree. On her blog, Anna has a list of over 50 ideas for using playdough which I go to whenever I’m in need of some inspiration. You can find her list as well as her recipes for playdough here: http://theimaginationtree.com/2013/01/the-z-of-play-dough-recipes-and.html

Before the children visited this centre, I set them up with some schema about what an inventor is by reading The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (both titles pictured above). I have my own collection of technology cast-offs, but I also wanted to involve the children in the creation of this centre so I sent home a note asking parents for any old electronic materials that we could use. The very next day we got an awesome assortment of old wires (which we trimmed for ease of play), speakers, remotes, cell phones, etc. which we sorted into our loose parts tray. I also added some plastic caps and metal loose parts I had in my loose parts bin.

In addition to the playdough and a collection of loose parts, I also wanted the children to record their creations on paper. I created a recording sheet with “My Invention” at the top. I also provided the children with a new kind of paper to sketch on: graph paper. I told them it was a special kind of paper that planners and inventors might use. I even modeled how to draw a creation I made by sketching and labeling the parts of my machine (like the on/off button, etc.). The children couldn’t WAIT to give this one a go!

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“This is the ‘off’ button!”

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These students were working independently until they realized they could connect their inventions together with a long wire. They were so excited about this discovery!

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“This is a ‘potato maker’ – it can make all kinds of potatoes: chips, french fries, mashed potatoes…”

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This student took time to colour and label her drawing to match her creation. “I put a check mark to show that it’s done!”

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“A Tic Tac Toe machine.”

One of the interests that developed from this provocation was an interest in robots. This was in part due to our experimentation with the apps ChatterPix and ChatterKid. Both versions of the app are nearly identical but ChatterKid has a three second countdown before it starts recording so that students know when to start talking.

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Basically, ChatterPix allows you to bring photos, drawings, and creations to life. You simply “draw on” a mouth and record your message and your image will talk! Here is a sample that one of my students made. This particular student is generally quite shy, so him having the confidence to not only record something but then share it confidently with the class at reflection time was a breakthrough (you can click on the link below to see the video on Twitter)!

Here are a few of the robots the children created:

What I liked most about this provocation  (besides the fact that it is engaging, creative, and fun!) is that it provided so many opportunities for our students to engage in literacy behaviours. The children were actively telling each other about their inventions as they worked, negotiating the use of special materials, and of course recording and writing about their inventions. During reflection time, the class was rapt with attention listening to each other describe what their inventions could do and how they were made. Many students were inspired to visit (or re-visit) this centre after hearing about what their classmates had created there.

Have you ever tried an Inventor’s Workshop in your class? Are you using ChatterPix with your students? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing!

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Zooming in on Technology!

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I am always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to enhance student learning using technology. Recently, our class received a digital microscope to pilot in the classroom. As technology goes, this tool is relatively inexpensive (around $60) and has proven to be a neat way of looking at things in a brand new way!

We began by using the microscope to explore our plants growing in the classroom and to zoom in on the bird nests that our students brought in to share. These activities were teacher-led during our large group instruction time and helped the students understand how the microscope works and how it can be useful for seeing things our eyes can’t normally see.

This week, the children took their own initiative with the microscope. A group of students approached me during Discovery Time – they wanted to use the microscope to explore some objects in the classroom. After hooking it up to the laptop for them, the children proceeded to snap images of a classroom chair, table-top, finger, iPad, and iPad button. There is only one button to press for picture taking, so the children were able to do this themselves. I had to help them focus the microscope (by rotating the lens at the top) first. The children were so amazed at how different our classroom materials looked close-up that they wanted to print out their pictures and share them with the class. We decided to make a game of it. The students wrote clues on their pictures and we presented them to the class to see if anyone could guess what the picture was of (I also posted the pictures on our classroom SMARTBoard so they were easy for the class to see).

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M.B. – “What is this? It starts with CH and you sit on it.”DSC02221

R.K: “What is this? You press it and it starts with a B.”

Overall, we have really been enjoying the digital microscope in our classroom. It took a little getting used to while we were learning how to focus the lens, but the set up and installation (we downloaded software directly from the website where the microscope can be purchased) was easy. The children are comfortable manipulating the microscope on their own (with some assistance in focusing) and its small size means it’s good for small hands and doesn’t take up space in the classroom. I’m interested to see what new discoveries we will make with our new tool!