Monday, July 11, 2016

Rube Goldberg Machines

This is one of my all-time favorite school-age programs. I've done it three times now over the past few years and it's always delightful.

The game Mouse Trap is a Rube Goldberg Machine

And, even better, it doesn't take a ton of prep! I admit, it sounds intimidating, but I *promise* it's really super easy!

First off, what IS a Rube Goldberg machine? Rube Goldberg was an artist (cartoonist) who also had a degree in engineering. He is known for designing incredibly complicated machines that do a very simple task. So a Rube Goldberg machine is a really complicated way of doing something simple--many of us probably played the game Mouse Trap (or at least spent forever setting it up and trying to get it to work). You can find out more about him here.

I usually advertise this program for kids in grades 3-6 on their own, or for families to participate together, and hold the program for an hour and a half. I invite adults dropping kids off to come back ten or fifteen minutes early, and then the whole group goes around and views all the machines and talks about what worked/what was a challenge for each machine.

Program Outline:
1. Show some examples [Make sure to stop before the final 15 seconds—uncensored swear word, but I like this one since it shows how long it took to get it right] Various Japanese RG Machines

2. Talk about inventions. An invention is something we create that makes life easier or to solve a problem—something no one else thought of before. Well, a Rube Goldberg machine is a kind of invention that actually makes things more complicated. It’s the most complicated way you can think of to do something simple, like ring a bell. Rube Goldberg machines are named after a real person. Rube Goldberg was an artist, and he liked the idea of an invention that made things MORE complicated rather than easier.

Some of the STEM concepts that relate to RG machines that I focus on are chain reactions and potential versus kinetic energy.

3. Explain what the kids are going to do: 
  • Tell the kids that their goal is to ring the bell by creating a chain reaction that has three or four distinct parts.
  • Suggest that they start at the end and work backward. What will ring the bell? What will happen before that? What happens before that?
  • Explain that paper and pencils are available at their tables if they want to create a plan before they start (I have made this optional, as well as done it where they have 5-10 minutes specifically dedicated to brainstorming. I think either way is fine). 
  • If you have certain limited items, let them know how much they can use (The first time I did it, I had supplies in separate categories of "only one each" and "as much as  you want" but it really wasn't necessary so I haven't done that since). 
While kids are building, I go around and talk to them about their challenges, and use science words to describe what I see happening, "Oh, I like how you're using an incline to create friction and slow down the speed of the marble so you can control it's trajectory" kind of stuff. When they're having a hard time, I try to refrain from telling them what to do, but say things like, "I wonder what would happen if..." and "I notice that it seems to get stuck at that same spot every time" and let the kids keep figuring it out themselves (this can be hard). 

Program Supplies: 
Supplies vary—basically anything that you can think of; you don’t have to know how they will use it, you just need enough stuff to spark their imaginations and allow for variety. You don’t have to have ‘enough’ of everything except the bells since that’s the goal, and the rolling objects that make the machine work—golf balls and/or marbles. Basically you can just raid your supplies cabinet and put out a bunch of random stuff.
Must haves:
Scrap paper
Bells (one per kid/group; I just use the round craft bells in various sizes)
Golf balls (one per kid/group)
Marbles (Small dollar store marbles aren't heavy enough, but fine if you also have golf balls)
Dominoes (these get used a LOT, so this might be something you stock up on and/or limit)
Cardboard tubes
Cups of various sizes*
*Even these supplies can vary; but you do need a lot of things to provide height and structure

Also haves:
substitute whatever you have around; you just want a lot of variety, and remember: you don't need enough of everything, just a bunch of different stuff available!
Ping pong balls
Rubber bands
Craft sticks
Various wooden pieces from craft department—flat panels, skewers/dowels etc.

Yes! You can see awesome machines created at one of my programs here, here, and here


Friday, May 13, 2016

Flannel Friday--Waiting by Henkes

As soon as I read "Waiting" by Henkes I started thinking about those adorable nested kitties. I knew there had to be a way to do that with flannel! I knew it would be tricky, because it would be creating something that was nine layers of flannel deep, but after some tinkering I came up with a design that worked.

Once, there was a cat with patches.
What was the kitty in the story waiting for?

POP! Out came another spotted cat!

The whole family

Here they all are, with some perspective on size.

The teeniest kitty revealed--Just one spot!

I used this in my weather storytime recently when I read Waiting by Kevin Henkes. There were lots of delighted oohs and ahhs when I pulled out this flannel.

"Look! It’s a cat with patches. In the story she was waiting for something, do you remember what it was?

POP! Out came a kitty with green spots! Is she waiting for something? 
POP! etc."

We talked about the colors of each cat, and I used different vocabulary words like spots, patches, circles, and dots. After all were revealed, I took them down and put up two at a time so we could talk about size. "Which one is bigger? Yes, the one with purple spots!" or "Is the cat with green spots bigger or smaller than the cat with pink spots?"

I will use this one with our without reading Waiting, and it's a good fit for storytimes about size, families, colors, cats, or weather, so I will have a lot of chances to use it. 

You can see it in action here:

And, finally (best of all), I have a template to share in case you'd like to make your own. I'd love to see your version if you make one!

Flannel Friday is hosted this week at Adventures in Storytime. Make sure to check out the other awesome flannels this week! To participate in upcoming roundups, or just find out what's what, check out the Flannel Friday Blog

Monday, December 1, 2014

Recent Favorite Picture Books. Part Two

Last Monday I shared six picture books I love. Here are six more!

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean
Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio illustrated by Christian Robinson
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski 
It's a Tiger! by David LaRochelle illustrated by Jeremy Tankard 

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean. This book is ridiculously adorable. Little David is waiting and waiting for the snow--a BIG snow, he hopes. The progression of no snow, to flurries, to a full-on snowstorm is gorgeously depicted in the warm illustrations. Mom's attempts to distract him from his wait-induced boredom are sweetly futile as David is only momentarily distracted. Baking turns into a flour snowstorm. Cleaning turns into a soap bubble snowstorm, etc. In the end David's father comes home, and the little family goes out to explore the big snow together.

Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio illustrated by Christian Robinson. This is my other contender for 'most favoritist picture book of 2014.' It's almost impossible not to fall in love with the goofily adorable Gaston, who tries the hardest but never quite quite manages to hit the mark. As you can see, Gaston doesn't quite fit in with his proper poodle family. One day at the park, the family encounters a family of bulldogs that includes a poodle pup, and it's clear there was a switched-at-birth mix-up. What follows is an exploration of acceptance, nature vs. nurture, and love. LOVE this one. 

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd. Talk about GORGEOUS. Holy moly this wordless picture book is one I can stare at for hours. The magic of light vs. dark and how different things look in the dark, the use of color, the small details to pore over--this book is so so lovely.

"When it was time to make supper, Sophie's mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie. 'I call her Bernice,' Sophie said. 'I'll call for pizza.' said Sophie's mother."
Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. This book is so funny. Sophie's parents pick up a squash from the farmer's market, but when Sophie discovers that the squash is "the perfect size to bounce on her knee--the perfect size to love" the squash becomes a friend instead of supper. Sophie and Bernice are inseparable for a while until Bernice predictably begins to rot, and Sophie has to figure out how best to care for the ailing Bernice. So cute it hurts, but without ever becoming saccharine.

Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. All the best parts of I Spy or Where's Waldo, but with a lot more imagination and narrative mixed in. In this book, there are multiple characters you can follow from page to page, and each character has its own adventures, mysteries, and resolution. Sometimes the stories intersect. Additionally, there are tons of other characters and details that appear from page to page. There are countless stories to be found in these illustrations, and they are so funny and charming you will be immediately sucked in. 

It's a Tiger! by David LaRochelle illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. This a great choice for anyone who has ever enjoyed 'going on a bear hunt' although this story is completely original and fresh. The narrator keeps describing his safe surroundings until he spies something out of place--is it? No. Yes! IT'S...A TIGER! RUN! A perfect blend of humor, action, and a satisfying conclusion.

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