Rube Goldberg Confetti Launchers

For the last couple of weeks, my 6th graders have been learning about and constructing Rube Goldberg Machines.

This video served as our inspiration.

Although we didn’t have the time nor the space to construct anything this elaborate, we did enjoy the challenge of a Rube Goldberg-style Confetti Launcher!

Each pair/triad of students received a box containing the same materials: a small piece of cardboard, an index card, a pipe cleaner,half of an egg carton, two plastic cups, a plastic spoon, a straw, a large paper clip, a clothespin, a small rubber band, a toy monster truck, half of a paper towel tube, ten dominoes, two marbles, and “unlimited” use of plain white copy paper and masking tape.

Then they were issued the following requirements for the challenge and told to go for it!

  • The machine may require only ONE human input.
  • The machine must include at least 5 different events.
  • The machine must incorporate at least 3 different simple machines.
  • All of the materials in the box must be used.
  • The machine must successfully launch confetti at least 1 foot in height or distance.

Great conversations about force and motion, simple machines, and form versus function were overheard, along with observations of compromise and consensus, testing hypotheses, and recovering from “failures.”

Ultimately, the four machines were similar in fundamental ways, but distinctly different too. Three out of the four machines met the original criteria and launched the confetti at least one foot; only one machine required an additional human intervention in order to launch successfully on video. (Although with more time, we are certain that the issue could have been resolved.)

IMG_0782 IMG_0243 IMG_1199    IMG_0246


Some students earned their first badges for this challenge. One of the teams launched their confetti TEN FEET! And another team, once construction was completed, had more than three successful launches IN A ROW!

Confetti Badge 2 Confetti Badge 1


Overall, very impressive collaboration and engineering! You can view our videos here and see the rest of the photos here.

Stay tuned for more design challenges…


Get ready… Get set…

Back to school time. The end of August and the beginning of September are always filled with anticipation for me! It’s a time when I’m brimming with ideas, my to-do lists and my shopping carts are overflowing, and everything feels shiny and new.

It’s also a time when I can become exhausted and overwhelmed, spinning in so many directions I can’t find my footing.

How does a teacher skillfully sail through the start of school? Whether a new teacher or a 15 to 20-year veteran like myself, there is peace and comfort to be found in the midst of the chaos. Read on!

1.) Lists, lists, lists.  I know it is impossible to keep track of everything in my head, so I don’t. I make a list of my teaching and classroom management ideas for each class, of the must-have supplies for my classroom (see #2 below), and of the various tasks that need doing. Last year I got smart and made digital lists for every month of the school year. All I had to do was pull up my September checklist and my work life instantly felt much more organized. Also, during the summer I keep a journal where I can jot down ideas and plans. The summer is such a great time for those ideas to percolate, and having a place to contain them is super helpful. I also carry the journal with me everywhere during pre-service week so I can add to it as lightning flashes of inspiration occur during all those meetings!

2.) I only buy what I really NEED. One of my lists is “Find or Buy.” This means that before I go shopping, I dig through my garage, shed, closets and cabinets, then ask around for items that friends or family may be willing to pass on to my classroom. THEN I go shopping. This year I walked through Target without a shopping cart of basket; everything I needed I could carry in both hands.  I re-purposed items that I wasn’t using at home, found extra school supplies hiding in cabinets, and accepted a few donations. And my classroom looks fabulous, as always. 🙂

3.) I am willing to put in extra time before the pre-service days begin. I can not emphasize this enough. How challenging is it to get anything accomplished when all of the staff members are back in school? Meetings, requests, and unexpected visits are unavoidable, not to mention the ever-growing list of mandates. I have found that the investment of a few days of my summertime is well worth the payoff. These long, uninterrupted blocks of time allow me to set up my classroom, organize my drawers and cabinets, and collect my teaching materials before the arrival of my colleagues and the growing to-do list that follows.

4.) Prioritize! It is so easy to get sucked into feeling like I have to get it ALL done before the first day of school. The thing is, we don’t. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other. I am constantly asking myself: Does this need to be done RIGHT NOW?  Two great litmus tests for back to school are open house night and the first day of school. Once I am prepared for those two events (and ONLY those two), then I pay attention to deadlines in order to decide what else to tackle. Sometimes I get a little bit ahead, and sometimes I am just right on track. But setting my priorities helps keep me from spinning my wheels on unnecessary tasks and falling behind.

5.) I remember to take care of myself.  The kids haven’t arrived yet, and that’s when I know I will really need 100% of my energy. It is crucial to take the time right now to eat well, keep up my exercise routine, get enough sleep by going to bed on time, and take time each day to do things that make me happy. Whether that’s reading a good (non-teaching-related) book, playing with my kids or pets, or indulging in my favorite hobbies, I know that I need to put my personal needs ahead of my back-to-school needs.

Teaching is one of the most difficult and most rewarding jobs in the world, and it is one of the few careers where we get a fresh start every year. Let’s enjoy our new beginning, and make it the best year ever!

Exciting news!

I know I said my next post would be about preparing for a new school year… (I am in the thick of it right now during our preservice workdays!) So… that post is still coming…

But today I have to share my wonderful news! I have been accepted to present at the TCEA 2016 Convention and Exposition AND the FETC 2016 Educational Technology Conference!  I will be traveling to Austin, Texas and to Orlando, Florida this winter to share my ideas for teaching with technology with people from all around the United States. I am beyond excited for these opportunities!

Governor’s School (year 2) : Success!

Just a quick post to share last week’s governor’s school experience. This was my second year to teach “MaKey MaKey Inventor’s Club” to students who have just completed 4th or 5th grade. We tacked the challenges listed below:

  • Conductivity Test
  • Interactive 3-D Art
  • Video Game Controller
  • Wacky Musical Instrument
  • Hands-Free Anything
  • Humans Only
  • “As Seen on TV” Invention and Infomercial

Humans Only Pacman Arrows

We had a blast, and I am still recovering from exhaustion! Here are a couple of videos of projects that I thought just rocked!

Silver Missile – interactive art

Pac-Man Controller – video game

Pan Flute – music

The Foiler – Definitely the best invention and infomercial project to come out of this class!

Enjoy! I’ll be back soon with thoughts on preparing for a new school year!

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.

Let’s be honest: teachers LOVE summer.

I like to think of summer as when my “real life” begins. I get to enjoy my home and my hobbies, travel, have fun with my kids, spend a lot of time outdoors, and even take naps with my pets. I get to sit for large amounts of time, drinking coffee and thinking about nothing. (Oh wait, I do that during the school year too.) I get to work on all those fun projects that I can’t seem to find the time for during the school year.

And yet, right around this time – late July – the little itch begins. First it’s just gathering a few materials that I think I’ll need in my classroom, charging up the iPads, deleting last years pics and videos and a few useless apps. Then it’s cleaning out my inbox and tidying up my Google Drive, which then finds me doing a few internet searches on things that have popped into my mind like new apps, or an idea for a project, and before I know it, I’m creating a unit plan, or designing resources for my kids, or in this case, dusting off my edublog and trying to write something halfway intelligent.

So last week while I was relaxing in the Outer Banks with my family, I received a shocking email. Here’s what it said:

Dear Kim,

On behalf of the CUE Fall Conference Speaker Selection Committee, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to present at the CUE 2015 Fall Conference in Napa Valley, CA. Presentations will be held on October 22-24, at American Canyon High School (3000 Newell Drive, American Canyon, CA).


Back in May when I submitted presentation proposals to three different technology conferences around the country, I truly did NOT expect to be selected for this one.

So I thought about it, and I talked it over with my husband, and I thought about it some more, and I came to a very sad conclusion: I can’t accept this invitation. The timing is just terrible, for a lot of reasons (money not the least of them), and so I sent this in reply:

Thank you for selecting my presentation, “Teaching with TED Talks in the Digital Classroom” for the Fall CUE 2015 Conference. It is with regret that I must decline this invitation. Due to my current teaching obligations, I am unable to travel to California on October 22-24.  I appreciate the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience.

But then I added one more little paragraph (wink, wink) because… you know, California and all.

I am interested in the CUE 2016 National Conference on March 17-19 and will submit a presentation proposal for the same topic.
Again, thank you,

And that’s what I ended up doing tonight. Except I didn’t just submit the presentation proposal for the same topic. I sent in two submissions. I decided it would be way too much fun to present a hands-on session called “MaKey MaKey 101: Creative Challenges for the STEAM Classroom.”

Fingers crossed!  (and by the way, within the next three weeks I should hear something from the other two conferences…)

The itch has been scratched and scratched and scratched. And now I think it would be best if I smooth on some cream and take it easy for just a little while longer.

MaKey MaKey Musical Instruments

We did it! This week in 6th grade we finally finished the Wacky Musical Instruments using the MaKey MaKeys.  Thankfully we did not have to worry about dried-out Playdoh this time. (For our previous project, the video game controllers, several groups attempted to re-wet the “doh” with paintbrushes. This was only partly successful.)


All of the musical instruments incorporated standard conductive materials: empty cans, aluminum foil, pennies, paper clips and of course, humans. Building supplies included mostly cardboard boxes, foam meat trays, poker chips, straws and popsicle sticks, held together with “lots and lots of duct tape,” according to one student. They also nearly exhausted my supply of hot glue mini sticks.


Once again the gold star award for design goes to Kristen and Hannah! I love their thumb holes for staying connected to earth and the artistic flair with which they decorated the keyboard. Their video demo is here:  “Sounds of the Rainbow”