What happens when you merge three grants–a Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation(TCSEF) grant, a Haywood Electric Bright Ideas grant, and a building-level grant?  You get an entire project-based unit that focuses on communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.

This is what Brevard Elementary School (BES) media coordinator Charlene Cali has done in her “On Cloud Nine” Technology Stations project.  Over the past year, Cali has combined the TCSEF grant of $846 (for a laptop, 40” Insignia TV, and connecting cables), a $1956 Bright Ideas grant (for four Nexus tablets, two Wonder Robots, Makey Makey and Squishy Circuits kits, and Augmented Reality Books and Puzzles), and a BES principal-sponsored grant for a SmartBoard to enable her to transform the BES Media Center into a 21st Century center for learning. The current “On Cloud Nine” unit contains six weeks of interactive lessons that support the NC Standard Course of Study and the Common Core curriculum.
The day I visited Cali in the media center, she was introducing six new learning stations to Mrs.Morris’ fourth grade class.  By the end of the week, all the school’s fourth and fifth grade classes will have cycled through the media center and experienced the first of their six stations.  Each station focuses on a different technology and a different curriculum concept.  Each class is divided into six groups, with each group working at one station each week for the six weeks leading up to the end of the school year.

Station One was a makerspace station.  Each student cut out 3D glasses from a pattern after watching a YouTube video that explained the process.  Cali reminded the students that the blue acetate covered the right eye opening of the glasses; the red covered the left eye.  After they made the glasses, the students could watch a video of a 3D Virtual Roller Coaster Ride.
Trying to cut out the glasses and colored acetate, taping the acetate to the cut out eye portions, and attaching the ear pieces to the glasses was a challenge.  Students had to figure out how to cut out the eye sockets.  (I wondered if playing with paper dolls was a prior value-add as one of the girls in the group told the boys how to do this.)  Once this task was actually accomplished, the video viewing began.  Students asked such questions as “What happens if the acetate colors are reversed? (The video isn’t 3D.) Why?  (Using red and blue lenses tricks the brain into seeing 3D.  Each eye sees a slightly different image.)  What happens if you view the video without your glasses? (It’s blurry and “weird.”)  There’s a lot of sophisticated science here, but the students are getting an introduction to how the human brain works.

The second station was an interactive puzzle.  Students were challenged to put together a complex puzzle of the solar system. Even though another class had started the puzzle, it still wasn’t completed by the end of the fifty minute class.  Once the puzzle is actually complete, all students will get to use the Planets Puzzle app on the Nexus tablets to begin to research how the planets relate and interact in space.

What was the value of working on this puzzle even though the group did not finish the task?  Spacial and process skills are hard to teach, but important throughout life.  Puzzles help students acquire these skills and perhaps more importantly, also work on the intangible skill of persistence.  Most of us can relate to wanting to throw up our hands in the middle of a tedious task and walk away.  These four students in the puzzle group stuck with the task the entire class.  Bravo!
Station three had everyone who walked in the media center mesmerized.  Two Wonder Robots named Dot (with one eye) and Dash (with two eyes) needed to be programmed to do certain things like roll across the room or navigate around the group’s table and chairs.  This coding activity reviewed the coding concepts taught during the district’s Hour of Code in December and challenged both pairs of students to figure out how to code a new device and collaborate together to do so.
Imagine how excited the Station Four group was.  They got to take the digital camera throughout the school, each student taking one picture.  When they returned to the media center, they were to download their pictures into a presentation that would challenge their classmates to figure out “Where in the School Is This?”  Fortunately the school’s Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF), Alyse Hollingsworth, was there to help the children download their pictures, figure out how to rotate them if necessary, and add a caption.  At the end of class, Cali previewed the photos for the rest of the class to solve.  How much fun this will be when all groups add their pictures to the presentation!

Station Five was a hard one.  This group used the Makey Makey kit to create circuits using everyday items like bananas and Play Doh.  Another adult, district ITF Vera Cubero, was there to help the students put the circuits together and asked such important questions as “What does he need that you all have?” (a ground)  Why don’t we hook up our grounds together and see what happens?” (They could play notes on a virtual keyboard–although they never quite got a coherent tune.)  Students experimented by putting a quarter in the Play Doh and becoming the ground themselves by holding the wire, and many more combinations, challenging themselves to understand the principle of circuits, grounds, and collaborative problem-solving, all while using the scientific method.
The final station used the SmartBoard so that the group of students could practice coding using Scratch and Botlogic coding language.  They could move puzzle pieces around this large interactive board simply by touching the board.  They were, however, on a ten or twelve second time limit to complete the programming.  Not as easy as it looked!  Again, this was reinforcing the coding skills learned earlier in the school year and demonstrated the value of focusing and problem-solving together to reach a common goal.

A lot was going on in that media center, all with approximately twenty-three students in fifty minutes with three adults collaborating and guiding the students to gain the most from these interactive experiences.  But none of this richness would have been possible without the vision and generosity of three separate funding sources.  When citizens contribute through a direct gift to the Transylvania County Schools Education Foundation or purchase tickets to the Taste of Transylvania, they ensure that creative and persistent teachers like Cali can enrich their classrooms with 21st century tools that inspire communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving through one or more grants that reward their vision and hard work.

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.