Ultimate Angry Birds  

Standards Met: CCSS.Math.Content.2.OA.A1; NGSS 3-PS2-1 (Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.)

What you Need: Boxes and canisters covered in construction paper, printed math problems, small beanbags, Notability app

What to Do: Miranda Talley Reagan, a third-grade teacher at Sam Houston Elementary School in Maryville, Tennessee, uses the game Angry Birds to teach STEAM. Reagan wraps boxes and canisters in solid paper and attaches a multiplication problem to each. Then, students work in teams to design a sturdy tower complex. Once each tower is built, students upload a picture to the Notability app so they can annotate images to explain their process. Next, teams comprised of throwers, sweepers, and sorters play “Ultimate Angry Birds!” Throwers toss beanbags to knock down sections, sweepers remove the fallen pieces, and sorters earn points by solving the multiplication problem written on each collected piece. As students play, they upload images of the knocked-down problems to Notability to document their work.

Winter Wonderland

Standard Met: NGSS 2-PS1-2 (Analyze data obtained by testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties best suited for an intended purpose.)

What you Need: Ice cubes, salt, sugar, tray, Insta-Snow polymer (available on Amazon.com), plastic dish

What to Do: In Disney’s Frozen, Elsa, the Princess of Arendelle, has cryokinetic powers that allow her to manipulate snow and ice. In this two-part lesson, kids can try activating their own cryokinetic abilities!

First, place three ice cubes side by side on a tray, allowing enough room between each cube for a puddle to form. Have students sprinkle a few pinches of salt on the first cube and a few pinches of sugar on the second; leave the third cube untouched to serve as a control. When the cubes begin to melt, students will observe that the salted cube melts the fastest. As a class, brainstorm why that might be. (Salt lowers the freezing point of ice more quickly than sugar does because it contains more molecules, causing ice to melt at a faster rate.)

Now that students have melted ice, can they make snow? Explain that particles in Insta-Snow act like microscopic sponges, absorbing water and expanding to 100 times their original volume. Working together, students create “snow” by pouring one teaspoon of Insta-Snow into a dish and adding two ounces of water. As a fun twist, have students record videos of one another calling out a magic spell as they create their snow. (Make videos on a kid-friendly app such as Animoto or Magisto.) After class, students annotate their videos to create a timeline of the snow-generating process, taking note of major milestones such as the moment their “snow” grows cold.  

Joy of STEM

Standard Met: NGSS K-2 ETS1-1 (Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.) 

What you Need: Five sheets of paper, five paper clips, four rubber bands, 10 straws, yarn, ruler, tennis ball

What to Do: Reagan, who also blogs at STEM on the Sam Houston website and will release a new book, STEM-Infusing the Elementary Classroom, in 2016, began this school year with an activity based on the animated film Inside Out. In the movie, when 11-year-old Riley moves to a new city, her five personified emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) are thrust on a journey inside her mind.

Inspired by Joy and Sadness’s mission to retrieve one of Riley’s missing core memories, students learn about forces and simple machines by working in groups to devise a method to get a core memory (tennis ball) across the classroom to Joy (their teacher) using only the materials provided. As they work, students use Notability to document their design and engineering process: asking questions, brainstorming solutions, planning the design, photographing the setup, and running tests to make improvements. The resulting designs range from pulleys to ziplines!   

The Measure of a Wizard

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.2.MD.A.1 (Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools.)

What you Need: Straws, 8.5-by-11-inch sheets of paper, paint

What to Do: Before class, assign each student a straw that represents a type of wood, such as ivy, holly, fir, or willow. Cut straws so that different “woods” have different lengths.

Once you have distributed a straw to each student, explain that before rulers were standardized, people used a variety of measuring tools, including the length of an arm, a foot, or a finger. Beans were even used as units of measurement! Tell students they will be crafting wands to measure the length of the classroom. To make wands, place a straw diagonally across a sheet of white paper, wrap the paper around the straw, and tape it in place. Pass out paints, and tell kids to decorate their wands however they wish. 

Once wands are dry, have students measure the length of the room and provide their answers in “wand” units. For example, a wand made of wood from a fir tree would report the length of the room as “20 firs,” while one made of holly might measure it as
“15 hollys.” Compare students’ measurements and ask, “Why are they different?” Help students understand that each wand has its own unit, and that problems arise if units are not given when expressing a measurement. 

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Images: Pat Hastings/iStockphoto (boxes); Valerie Loiseleux/iStockphoto (angry bird)