Peggy Healy Stearns: Light Up the Holidays with this Maker Studio Lantern Activity

The following blog post is by Peggy Healy Stearns, Lead Software Designer, Fab@School Maker Studio at Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity. This post first appeared on her blog.

From wintry December to steamy July, flickering candles to blazing fireworks, light transforms the mundane to magical. Children, like adults, are captivated by light – especially when they make the magic themselves.

This lighted lantern project helps children do just that – and provides an easy and motivating introduction to 3D design. Kids can create a lantern from paper or cardstock and light it with either an LED votive or simple circuitry. They sometimes start with a template, but deeper learning occurs when children modify the design or, better yet, start from scratch.

To make a lantern from scratch, our students use Fab@School Maker Studio. They click to add ready made shapes, resize to customize, and snap parts together using the Magnetize tool to align. When shapes are snapped, the app automatically makes fold lines, so it’s easy for kids to create a flat pattern or net that folds into a 3D object. Using the Tab tool, kids can automatically create tabs for easy construction.

Because Maker Studio facilitates the mechanics, students focus on design, critical thinking, and creativity. Math is integral to the process, so problem solving doesn’t feel like an assignment. If kids plan to light their lantern with an LED votive, they determine an appropriate size and use the grid, manipulative ruler, or Show Dimensions to meet their specifications. If they want to include circuitry, they design a switch and use copper conductive tape, a coin cell battery, and a 3mm LED bulb. Students arrange parts so their design folds into a lantern and preview their construction in 3D view. As you would expect, most constructions require multiple iterations.

Building 3D shapes from the ground up in this fashion requires more thought than dragging a solid from a library and letting the software generate the net. The process supports the development of spatial reasoning and transformational geometry skills.

Students customize their lanterns with graphics or cutouts for holidays like Halloween or birthdays. Some kids design their own nightlights. Others transform lanterns into buildings to create a cityscape. Adults get into the act, too. One bride-to-be created lighted favors for her shower.

Hands-on activities are especially motivating when they connect to students’ lives and result in a useful product. They engage a broad range of learners, including students who don’t connect to more traditional instruction.

These compelling projects have the power to light up learning. And that is meaningful magic.

Fab@School Maker Studio has been piloted by hundreds of students. Version 1.0 will be released in January 2016. Click here for more information.

Creative Educator Spotlight: Andrew Hacket

Second grade students in Andrew Hacket’s class at the Mayo Elementary School in Holden, MA, recently completed a 10 week integrated science, social studies, and literacy unit named Recyclable City: Designing Against Disaster, in which they became project managers, city planners, cartographers and civil engineers.

After learning about citizens, types of communities and the basics of economics, students were tasked with imagining and creating their own community. Each student completed a “building permit” outlining their plan for constructing a business/building for their city and describing how it would provide for the needs and wants of the community. Students then raided their recycling containers to provide the necessary building materials.

Following the building phase, students put on their cartographer hats as they learned how to read and create maps of their own using symbols, keys and labels. These skills were immediately put to use as students created roads and added symbols to their 3D recyclable city map.

Andrew Henry’s Meadow” by Doris Burn served as the inspiration for the next step in the unit. Just like the boy in the story who built homes for his friends based on their personal interests, the second grade students designed and built their own homes reflecting their personalities and interests. These were made from construction paper and immediately added to a new classroom map.

As students learned about landforms, symbols were created to represent them and they were added to the map and key. Later, after learning about earth’s fast and slow changes, students returned to class one day to learn that natural disaster symbols had been added to their map. The homes that they had just created were now in danger and it was up to them to devise and create a solution to protect them from harm. Students implemented the engineer design process to imagine, plan, and construct systems out of recyclable materials. Finally, students were asked to improve their designs, taking into consideration how they could harness the natural power of the disaster to store or repurpose the energy to benefit their home or community.

The unit and student work were showcased at the Massachusetts STEM Summit held at the DCU center on November 10, 2015. The unit plan, list of addressed standards and links to photographs and materials can be found at

** Are YOU – or someone you know - activating any of FableVision’s books, media, and/or software to cause learning in more creative, engaging ways?  If you'd like to nominate someone for the FableVision Creative Educator Spotlight, click here and complete your submission electronically. **

Peggy Healy Stearns: Under the Big Top With Maker Studio

The following blog post is by Peggy Healy Stearns, Lead Software Designer, Fab@School Maker Studio at Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity. This post first appeared on her blog.

At the STEAM Carnival in San Francisco, kids were eager to use Fab@School Maker Studio to design and fabricate paper and cardstock pop-ups, lanterns, buildings, and movable constructions. For adults, the colorful and lively carnival stirred memories of circus tents and pinwheels and cotton candy – and inspired carnival themed-projects. We set out to design these projects with Maker Studio. (All but the cotton candy, that is.)

Basic Pinwheel

Make a square and draw diagonal lines connecting opposite corners. Add a hole in each corner and one in the middle. Cut from the corners to about an inch from the center. Then fold all four corners to the center and place a pin through the corner and center holes.

This simple activity offers numerous opportunities to talk about shapes, angles, measurement, fractions, and other math concepts. More complex pinwheels, like that on the right, provide extended learning opportunities.

Beyond math and engineering design, pinwheels are a great introduction to windmills and turbines and related energy and environmental issues.

It’s easy to move from STEM to STEAM and integrate the arts. Let kids color pinwheels to create intriguing effects when spun. Challenge students to design more complex and unique pinwheels. There are plenty of models on the Internet. Test your pinwheels on a windy day or with a fan, and celebrate with a pinwheel art festival.

Circus Tent

Designing a circus tent is more challenging and involves some more complex mathematical and design thinking.

The sides are simple red and white panels. We (1) created a rectangle in Maker Studio, (2) used the Tab tool to automatically add a tab, (3) replicated the part, and (4) snapped copies together using the Magnetize tool to align them. Snap, snap, snap. Easy.

But how many panels do we need? And how wide should each panel be? That depends on the size of the tent. Kids tend to keep adding sides without thinking about the circumference of the tent, but this is part of the learning process. They’ll have to revisit this decision when they design a base to stabilize their tent and need to calculate the diameter.

Now on to the big top! What shape are the roof panels? How many panels do you need? How wide is the base of the panel? And how does the height or length of each panel affect the shape of the roof? There are dozens of questions, alternatives, and deliberations. Our first fabrication was not quite right, but fabricating with paper and cardstock is fast and inexpensive, so multiple iterations were easy, and we ended up with a satisfactory model.

We could have downloaded templates from the Internet, but allowing children to engineer their own tent supports deeper learning and greater pride in their work. And aligning hands-on activities with kids’ experiences, whether it’s a carnival or holiday or some other current event, makes learning more meaningful and memorable.

Sydney and Simon “Go Green” in Book #2 of Paul and Peter H. Reynolds’ STEAM-Powered Early Reader Chapter Book Series

Last we saw them in the debut book of the STEAM-powered adventures of Sydney & Simon: Full STEAM Ahead!, the creative problem-solving siblings were using their science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) skills to save their prized flowers wilting during a prolonged heat wave. Along with learning lots about the water cycle and evaporation, they used their creative maker skills to build a watering invention based on Archimedes’ pump. Now the twin mice are back to apply STEAM thinking to promote sustainability and to protect marine animals impacted by trash.

In Go Green! the adventure starts on a class field trip to the aquarium. Sydney is upset when she learns that Greenie, a sick green sea turtle, is recovering from digesting plastic that made its way to the ocean. She must convince Simon that trash can accidentally get swept into sewers, streams, rivers, and possibly end up in the ocean where it harms living creatures – like Greenie.

The twins collect data on the trash habits of their household and school and find they are all part of the problem. They need to figure out a way that their family, their neighborhood, and their school can cut down on garbage production and make better use of their discarded items. Along with learning about the science of trash decomposition, Sydney and Simon create a recycled art sculpture, as well as write and perform a hit song that gets the attention of everyone the city of Wonder Falls to rethink their trash habits.  

“Our planet is facing so many challenges – many of them environmental," FableVision’s CEO Paul Reynolds says. "Peter and I hope that the Sydney & Simon series will inspire the kind of creative STEAM thinking & doing that will foster the next generation of creative problem-solvers who will be the stewards of a cleaner, greener world in the decades to come. “

Short chapters written by Paul, paired with Peter’s lively illustrations will inspire readers to take a closer look at protecting the environment by implementing small changes that make a big difference. The book also models holistic literacy which helps support all four components of literacy: listening, talking, reading and writing/creative self-expression, which furthers the work FableVision has been doing with Reading Is Fundamental and the National Writing Project.

Share your stories about how you, your school, your community is adding the “A” to STEM.

Celebrate the book launch with Peter and Paul! Everyone is invited to the Sydney & Simon: Go Green!book signing and launch party on Saturday, Oct 17., from 10:30-12 p.m. at The Blue Bunny Bookstore in historic Dedham Square. For more details visit The Blue Bunny online

STEAM in the Classroom: Rayna Freedman

For this week's teacher spotlight, we salute Rayna Freedman! Rayna is a fifth grade teacher and Information Technology Specialist at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, MA. She is on the board of MassCUE and started a STEM literacy team in her district with several colleagues and administrators. Truly an amazing educator and colleague!

Rayna “connected the dots” between Peter and Paul Reynolds’ book - Full STEAM Ahead! – the first title in the twin brothers’ early reader chapter book series called The STEAM-Powered Adventures of Sydney & Simon

The series features twin mice who are truly creative problem-solvers. The book series helps underscore the notion that the “A” in STEAM education – is more than just mixing art into STEM studies – it is about the creative thinking that leads to invention and innovation.  Bringing that concept to life, Full STEAM Ahead! features two curious, creative learners taking on water-themed challenges and learning – including the water cycle and Archimedes’ invention of the water pump.

As so many of our creative educators do, Rayna was able to activate the Full STEAM Ahead! story in the classroom – using it to teach the engineering design process. Rayna’s class chose six water-themed challenges - one teacher-driven, the other five “student-tested and student-approved.”  

Here’s a sampling of the projects they tackled:

  • One group created their own irrigation system using a network of paper funnels and straws. They tested their system by repeatedly attempting to successfully move water from the sink to the other end of the classroom, and adjusting the system continually in order to avoid leaks.
  • Another group placed white flowers in a glass of water and then added food coloring.  In order to track the dye’s movement up the roots and into the flower, they attached construction paper to the flowers with an elastic band in order to chart how it travels up.  The group also made lab sheets for other classes to use when attempting to replicate this phenomenon.
  • A third group similarly planted flowers. Instead of food coloring, they simply tracked the growth of the plants using data sheets.

In addition to creating lesson plans for their own purposes, Freedman’s class also helped teach others.  Her students helped implement the Emerging Engineers Program, through which they taught some of the basics of STEAM thinking to kindergarten classes.

Thanks to Rayna and her students’ creative “arts & smarts”, we now have lesson plans available for ALL teachers to teach the engineering design process using the Full STEAM Ahead book. Click below for a downloadable PDF featuring details about the student-centered STEAM projects, including materials required for each experiment.

Also, Freedman’s students wrote reflections on their experiences, which may be helpful for teachers to keep in mind when introducing this project to their own classes. 

** Are YOU – or someone you know - activating any of FableVision’s books, media, and/or software to cause learning in more creative, engaging ways?  If you'd like to nominate someone for the FableVision Creative Educator Spotlight, click here and complete your submission electronically. **

Follow Rayna on Twitter at @rlfreedm!

Sydney and Simon's WonderWheel

Wondering How the Engineering Design Process and the Scientific Method Relate? 

By Paul A. Reynolds

                                                  Click Image to Enlarge

Our team at FableVision created this WonderWonder Wheel graphic to explore the ways the Scientific Method and the Engineering Design Model both begin with WONDERING.  And how, once this kind of thinking is rolling - with all the planning, doing & observing in between - we always come back to wondering again.  Curious learners never stop asking more questions - pondering “what ifs” - or giving up because something didn’t “work.”  

The inner circle of the graphic is our attempt to express the shared essence of both models - which we’ve done our best to match on the outer ring:

1) Spark & Awareness - Engaged learning starts with a mindful disposition toward the world.  Slow down, observe, notice the details, what’s working, what’s not.  Appreciate that you are noticing your world thoughtfully - close up.  

2) Wonder & Question.  Now, we can ponder, “why is that way?” “What could solve that problem?”  Sydney and Simon’s family LOVES questions - in fact, they even collect them in their “Questions Are Delicious” can, which they read at dinner table every night.  Over the years, the educational system has packaged “content” and the “answer keys” so much that we’ve forgotten to celebrate the idea that “not knowing” is a WONDERful thing!

3) Plan.  Both the Scientific Method and Engineering Design Model require that we make a stand to begin our exploration.  How are we going to attempt to answer our questions?  To solve a problem?  This is where visualization, creative brainstorming of idea association & dot connecting, and sketching is part of the art of problem-solving.  Some of the best scientists and engineers have been artists too - drawing, sculpting, writing poetry to express their ideas and bring to life and idea is lying just beneath the surface of our most amazing imaginations.

4) Explore & Experiment.  Now we have our questions and plan - it’s time to put them into action.  This phase also requires lots of creative problem-solving to build an experiment or prototype to test out your ideas.  Letting kids design their own way toward an answer is much more powerful than giving them a prepackaged kit (which is the message of our book GOING PLACES - to “think beyond the kit”)  A young learner will own the struggle - full of potentially messy, zig-zaggy turns - but the results will be more personal and enduring if they’ve been allowed to construct their own meaning. 

5) Document.  After putting the plan into action - something’s going to happen.  Good, bad, unexpected, or a dull thud.  We have to prepare kids with notion that “it is what it is.”  There are no bad results.  Adaptive expertise requires that a learner goes beyond the comfort zone of knowing - into unchartered territory, into the dark unknown.  And when we play there - it will be hard to predict the results.  But, no matter what, the results will ALWAYS keep that WonderWheel turning. 

6) Share & Broadcast.  This is where we’ve done our best to make sense of what happened and share it with others.  Did you get the results you expected?  Were you surprised by anything?  What would happen if you modified something?  You see . . . the wondering has begun again!  In this way, science and engineering never stop - it just keeps rolling along - taking us to new heights, new places, new solutions.  And, if we mix “smarts, art and heart” - we’ll roll our big blue dot of a  planet forward to a better place!