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    Default Writing by Doing: From Circuit Board to Homemade Volcano

    Writing by Doing: From Circuit Board to Homemade Volcano
    Writing by Doing: From Circuit Board to Homemade Volcano

    By Mrs. Barrett
    Time4Writing.com

    Sitting down to write an essay for English class can cause a youngster to feel so angst-ridden, and the process can even feel boring to many young writers. The blank, white screen or page is often overwhelming in itself aside from the assignment at hand. The anxiety over writing for other classes is often compounded if history, science, or even math are less desirable subjects for the student. So, why not make the process more interactive? It is believed that up to 50% of students are kinesthetic learners, those who learn best hands-on, by doing, creating, and experiencing. Kinesthetic learning is often a secondary style of learning when the primary learning style is visual or auditory; so, bringing learning to life--when the usual curriculum is mostly visual or auditory--can be a welcome way to shake things up for your student writer.

    Perhaps a circuit board flying saucer is a STEM project that could encourage (or even trick) your child to write a technical, how-to expository paragraph. Imagine a biography that doesn’t have to be boring for your student to read since he/she can bring the time, culture, and comrades of a prominent historical figure to life by creating a one-act Readers Theater production and actually star in the leading role. And lastly, imagine if your students could “cook” a volcano in science class! Move over Mario! Instead of reading about volcanoes or viewing a film about them, why not create a two-column video/audio script for a cooking-style show on creating one’s own homemade volcano?

    Let’s jump in!



    Writing can STEM from a Flying Circuit Board Saucer!


    My eight-year-old daughter and my husband just love to work on her Snap Circuits Jr. electronics kit. When it comes time to sit down to work on her Thursday night essay, however, she becomes very impatient. I’m often thinking of ways to encourage her. Sometimes we’ll draw it out first, tell jokes about the topic, or do some fun online research. This usually works, so it got me thinking about how I could harness her love of science and technology in a way that could reinforce writing an expository paragraph. I suggested that she and Dad take out the kit and get to work. Their challenge was to document (note-take) their steps so that anyone could pick up the kit and recreate the project easily. After their flying saucer was assembled, she’d reformulate her notes (or outline) into a how-to expository paragraph. Another direction that I gave her was to add further explanation after each step where possible and to sandwich these steps between a topic and closing sentence. With a bit of help from her dad and little brother, this is what they came up with (The image won't allow me to format it here today, so click on it below to see a larger view), and beneath is what she wrote:

    Snap Jr.jpg

    How to Make Your Own Flying Saucer Circuit
    By L. Barrett
    Making an electronic circuit that launches a spinner into the air is easy and fun. The first thing one needs to build any circuit is a battery. The battery will provide the current that powers the circuit. In a circuit, electricity flows through every part of it and back to the battery. In this circuit, to power the motor, connect the positive terminal of the battery to one end of the motor. Next, connect the negative terminal of the battery to a switch so that it is possible to turn the circuit on and off when it is all wired up. Finally, connect the other end of the switch to the motor, so the battery, motor, and switch are all wired together in a single path. If the motor does not have enough resistance to electric current, add a resistor in the path as well; otherwise, the current could burn out a wire or another part of the circuit. The spinner is a plastic disc that rests on top of a motor. When you have built the circuit and turn it on, the motor starts. When the motor is suddenly turned off, the spinner comes loose and flies up. When the switch is off, it is like a piece of the wire is being broken and held apart so that no current can flow. When one turns the switch on, the wire connects, and the motor starts to spin. Let the motor build up speed and spin the spinner, and then slam the switch back off. The spinner takes to the sky - a flying saucer! Circuit boards are especially fun when you can launch things from them and build one with your dad.


    Biography Brought to Life!

    Who doesn’t love “Readers Theater?!” RT is an activity in which students write their own scripts based on any type of literature. By sketching the characters, writing their own dialogue, and acting it out unrehearsed, students are able to improve their comprehension and appreciation of literature as well as their reading fluency. While Readers Theater is often done with fiction, there is certainly no reason why it couldn’t accompany a history lesson. Along with a biography, or a brief biographical sketch, it could help students to engage not only with the historical figure but also with his/her historical context. If you have groups of students in a classroom or co-op using notables from varying time periods, you can bring multiple eras of history to life within one space in the span of one hour! How cool is that?! This would make a fantastic end of the term activity after studying multiple decades of American History, for example. What a way to make a review unit more real! This activity reaches out to all three learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory! It’s a win-win-win!

    You can begin by having students write a brief character sketch for each character that will be part of the RT. They can also include a sketch of the setting and background, an overview of the plot, and any on hand props that they’d like to include. Here’s a great RT graphic organizer to get your student started. Students can refer to this (or something similar) as a resource for guiding them to generate ideas for their stage directions and character cues as they write their actual RT scripts.

    Here is a snippet of a RT script that my daughter wrote after learning about Neil Armstrong at school through a primary source witness testimony. She came home still fascinated, so she did some more research and worked on a script with my husband, the history buff. Here, they combine biographical, historical, and scientific elements. Included below is my favorite scene:

    Inside the capsule of the lunar module Eagle.
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: (into radio) Houston, Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.
    CHARLIE DUKE: (from radio) Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground.
    BUZZ ALDRIN: That was a wild ride down, Neil. I thought we might run out of fuel.
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: (relieved) A few more minutes and we would have had to launch back into orbit. What a disappointment that would have been!
    BUZZ ALDRIN: (with subtle emotion) To be so close to the moon, see it a few feet away, and have to leave. And for all the people who’ve worked so hard to get us here, and everyone around the world whose hearts are with this journey.
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: Well, we picked a great landing spot, nice and flat. I can see why they call this the ‘Sea of Tranquility,’ even though there’s no water on the moon!
    BUZZ ALDRIN: The mission schedule calls for us to take a five-hour nap before going out on the surface.
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: (curiously) Do you think you would be able to sleep?
    BUZZ ALDRIN: Sitting on the moon, waiting to get out there? No way!
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: (excitedly) In that case, let’s suit up.
    The two astronauts fasten their helmets and spot-check each other’s spacesuits.
    BUZZ ALDRIN: (respectfully) After you, commander.
    Armstrong slides open the airlock and struggles out the door in his large suit. Carefully, he descends the ladder until his boot touches the surface.
    NEIL ARMSTRONG: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

    I’m so proud of them, and they had a super fun time working on this together.

    Here is a great resource that compiles various RT scripts if you need some examples of what other scripts might look like. Here are some more. This page gives examples of how to approach biography with RT. It includes some fantastic free downloads. Here is a resource for your more advanced students who want to move beyond a RT script and create an actual full screenplay.


    How to 'Cook' a Homemade Volcano

    Sure, science can be fun, but run-of-the-mill writing about science isn’t always a blast. However, when you can create an actual blast and write about it, well, that’s a great time, for sure! So, choose an experiment and have your students write a TV script for how to conduct it “cooking show” style. A show script should employ a two column script that gives both video and audio directions. Since my little ones love making volcanoes, here’s a sample of how to begin such a script. Beneath the table script below (for the sake of space saving), I’ve given the remaining experiment directions so that anyone could take this script and complete the experiment and the episode. Here is a YouTube tutorial on how to set up your page in a more advanced way. Once you decide to film, here is a helpful resource for parents.

    Show Title: Sizzling Kitchen Science
    Episode: “Cook Your Own Homemade Volcano”
    Written by: L. Barrett and S. Barrett


    Video
    Audio
    Zoom in to Kid 1 speaking at kitchen table. Pan out before kid 1 mentions her sous-chef brother. Opening music plays and then slowly fades.

    Kid 1: (with a wide grin) Hello, and welcome to “Sizzling Kitchen Science.” Today, my brother and I will show you how to cook your very own homemade volcano.
    Zoom in slightly to Kid 2. Kid 2 rolls up sleeves. Kid 2: (looks up to Kid 1) I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get messy!
    Zoom out to include the kitchen. Kid 1 and Kid 2: (together, loudly and enthusiastically) Let’s start cooking our volcano!
    Kid 2: (to Kid 1) So what will we need to make it, Sis?
    Kid 1 holds up test tubes with various ingredients in prep bowls standing by.

    Adjust lighting to focus on ingredients.
    Kid 1: (presenting each item) Here’s what we’ll use, Bro:
    4 medium scoops of baking soda
    4 medium scoops of citric acid
    1 medium scoop of flour
    5 small scoops of red cabbage juice
    Approximately 1 1/2 cups of water

    Funny sound effect (Womp-womp)!

    (Smirking) We don’t need specific measurements! We’ll just use these test tubes to measure out scoops!

    • Mix the baking soda and flour, and 2 small scoops of red cabbage juice in a plastic cup. Stir well.
    • Add 1 medium scoop of water, and stir into a crumbly paste.
    • Mold the paste into a mountain shape on a plate.
    • Dissolve the remaining red cabbage juice in 3/4 cup of water in another plastic cup.
    • Dissolve the citric acid in 3/4 cup of warm water in a third plastic cup.
    • Make a puddle around the mountain on your plate with the cabbage juice water.
    • Using a pipette, drop the citric acid solution onto the 'volcano'. It will 'erupt' and change color.

    I hope that these ideas help to motivate your own students to learn and write with creativity, enthusiasm, and imagination.

    What are some similar lessons/tools you’ve used to motivate writing in a variety of school subjects?

    Let’s share!

    Thanks!
    Mrs. Barrett
    Time4Writing.com

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  3. #2

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    While I really do love your encouraging tone, I have to say that we have quite a few parents here with kids who, for various reasons, aren't too "down" with writing. No matter how fun you make it. Learning differences and such included....KWIM?

    Just keeping it real, and in an effort to avoid having a parent feel that their kid isn't making the cut at 8 years old with writing examples like the ones given in your OP, is it safe to assume that she was given a fair amount of assistance to reach the final draft?

    I assumed so because you included phrases like, "With a bit of help from her dad and little brother, this is what they came up with" and "so she did some more research and worked on a script with my husband, the history buff". So in full disclosure, did she have help with editing and proofreading? I'm thinking, of course she did

    Again, I'm only making that comment because I have, time and again, seen posts here with parents completely frustrated with the whole process. Can you make it clear for some folks, what to realistically expect from an average 8 year old (with and without learning differences)? Can you explain the assistance that a parent could expect give to a child to end up with a finished product like the examples above? And for parents of a child with learning differences, what are some tools that would be helpful in getting a child to their best potential. (technology based and old-fashioned skills alike) Voice recognition software, typing instead of handwriting, dictation to the parent or into a recorder come to my mind, but I'm sure there are others. What do you think about those?

    With all of that said, I have one natural writer and one resistant writer. I can see deploying some of the ideas you've shared above on my (younger) resistant one. Thanks!
    Homeschooling two sons (14 and 16) from day one. Atheist.
    Eclectic, Slackschooler covering 8th and 10th grades this year.

  4. #3

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    Mrs. Barrett, I love these ideas. I have DD do journaling or copywork to practice her writing, but it would be nice to have other things to offer up. She''ll be 8 in July, and over the past few months seems to go out of her way to write. This week, she wrote out extensive directions about how she wants her birthday day to go (ha!), complete with a list of gifts she'd like to have. She's into Harry Potter in a big way right now, so the gifts were HP themed. Also recently she used some of her HP parchment paper (she used her money on a recent vacation to buy HP paper, quill, and ink, and she uses it frequently) to write out an abbreviated history about Quidditch. (She had read the HP Quidditch book for inspiration.)

    Those were writing projects she cooked up on her own, and we did not grade/edit them in any way. I just read what she wrote, misspellings and all, and praised the efforts. It is nice to see ideas like yours, since she really likes history and science, and if we get into something particularly interesting, it likely wouldn't take much coaxing to get her to write about it. I'm less concerned at this juncture about teaching all the techniques in good writing, and instead focusing on getting her to write and enjoy it.

    ML, I get what you are saying - not all kids enjoy writing, and it can be a struggle to get a child to do work on a subject they dislike. I see the ideas here as being "outside the box" to give parents of both sorts of kids - those that like to write and those that don't - more tools in the toolbox. Instead of "hey let's write an essay!" (blah!), you try to capitalize on the child's excitement for whatever subject he/she is on and run with it through a writing project. I could certainly be wrong, but I would think that this technique COULD work with struggling writers or those that simply dislike writing.

    MB's DD above seems like she's pretty advanced if that writing is all or mostly hers, but even getting kids to start jotting down ideas from some experiment they just did or from a story they just read might be a stealthy way to get get them to practice their skills, and start learning how valuable a skill writing is.

    Sorry to sound overly rah-rah here, LOL. It's just that this post resonated with me, having just experienced my DD doing two fairly lengthy (for her age) writing projects that she cooked up entirely on her own. I had been thinking about how to capitalize on that without squashing her joy, and the ideas here are helping me to percolate some plans.
    Working mom homeschooling DD (10) who is working on a 4th-6th grade level and keeps me hopping! SimpleMoney is my new venture. www.simplemoneypro.com

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by muddylilly View Post
    While I really do love your encouraging tone, I have to say that we have quite a few parents here with kids who, for various reasons, aren't too "down" with writing. No matter how fun you make it. Learning differences and such included....KWIM?

    Just keeping it real, and in an effort to avoid having a parent feel that their kid isn't making the cut at 8 years old with writing examples like the ones given in your OP, is it safe to assume that she was given a fair amount of assistance to reach the final draft?

    I assumed so because you included phrases like, "With a bit of help from her dad and little brother, this is what they came up with" and "so she did some more research and worked on a script with my husband, the history buff". So in full disclosure, did she have help with editing and proofreading? I'm thinking, of course she did

    Again, I'm only making that comment because I have, time and again, seen posts here with parents completely frustrated with the whole process. Can you make it clear for some folks, what to realistically expect from an average 8 year old (with and without learning differences)? Can you explain the assistance that a parent could expect give to a child to end up with a finished product like the examples above? And for parents of a child with learning differences, what are some tools that would be helpful in getting a child to their best potential. (technology based and old-fashioned skills alike) Voice recognition software, typing instead of handwriting, dictation to the parent or into a recorder come to my mind, but I'm sure there are others. What do you think about those?

    With all of that said, I have one natural writer and one resistant writer. I can see deploying some of the ideas you've shared above on my (younger) resistant one. Thanks!


    Thanks for your comment! The scope of this post was creatively getting students to write in other disciplines other than ELA. Many reluctant writers have favorite subject areas that may make working on a writing assignment more fun or feasible. When that's the case, students learn better and make stronger progress.

    With that said, yes, my daughter had help, which I explained in the post ("with dad"). There would also be lessons on script writing formats as well, before the final product, so I gave links for where to go for examples in each section of the post. Before script writing, there is a graphic organizer sample to get your writer started. Of course, after the first draft, we "peer edited" L.'s drafts to make them "Forum" worthy. We reviewed capitalization, comma usage, and how to make a presentation appear professional with uniform italics and bold lettering. We also discussed how the final stage of drafting is publishing. Differentiating each assignment and going into the editing process and surrounding lessons would have been beyond the scope of one post, so please do check out the reference links that I added within the post for ideas that would cater more to your learner. You know your student best. Also, check out my post, "Recipes for Motivating Reluctant Writers" from this past July as well. There is a lot of good dialogue there that speaks specifically to your questions.

    Mrs. Barrett

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Starkspack View Post
    Mrs. Barrett, I love these ideas. I have DD do journaling or copywork to practice her writing, but it would be nice to have other things to offer up. She''ll be 8 in July, and over the past few months seems to go out of her way to write. This week, she wrote out extensive directions about how she wants her birthday day to go (ha!), complete with a list of gifts she'd like to have. She's into Harry Potter in a big way right now, so the gifts were HP themed. Also recently she used some of her HP parchment paper (she used her money on a recent vacation to buy HP paper, quill, and ink, and she uses it frequently) to write out an abbreviated history about Quidditch. (She had read the HP Quidditch book for inspiration.)

    Those were writing projects she cooked up on her own, and we did not grade/edit them in any way. I just read what she wrote, misspellings and all, and praised the efforts. It is nice to see ideas like yours, since she really likes history and science, and if we get into something particularly interesting, it likely wouldn't take much coaxing to get her to write about it. I'm less concerned at this juncture about teaching all the techniques in good writing, and instead focusing on getting her to write and enjoy it.

    ML, I get what you are saying - not all kids enjoy writing, and it can be a struggle to get a child to do work on a subject they dislike. I see the ideas here as being "outside the box" to give parents of both sorts of kids - those that like to write and those that don't - more tools in the toolbox. Instead of "hey let's write an essay!" (blah!), you try to capitalize on the child's excitement for whatever subject he/she is on and run with it through a writing project. I could certainly be wrong, but I would think that this technique COULD work with struggling writers or those that simply dislike writing.

    MB's DD above seems like she's pretty advanced if that writing is all or mostly hers, but even getting kids to start jotting down ideas from some experiment they just did or from a story they just read might be a stealthy way to get get them to practice their skills, and start learning how valuable a skill writing is.

    Sorry to sound overly rah-rah here, LOL. It's just that this post resonated with me, having just experienced my DD doing two fairly lengthy (for her age) writing projects that she cooked up entirely on her own. I had been thinking about how to capitalize on that without squashing her joy, and the ideas here are helping me to percolate some plans.
    Thank you, Starkspack! I couldn't have said it better myself. What you explained is exactly what I was aiming for--giving tools outside of the usual toolbox to motivate all types of writers (those struggling or reluctant as well as those wanting to write more advanced pieces). Let's look at writing beyond the typical framework. :-)

    What your daughter is doing--creating her own writing projects--is a testament to the great foundation you've given her. For "fun" writing (creative writing), I think it's a great idea not to go in to mark up errors, etc., as you've suggested. Just writing is very important because the more a child writes the more they grow as writers, thinkers, and learners. Sometimes we just need to get out of their way or offer something new for them to run with.

    Thanks again for your comments and for seeing and explaining the intention behind my piece, and good luck to your writer! I'm so happy that I gave you some more ideas to make her writing life more interesting, fun, and productive.

    Best,
    Mrs. Barrett

  7. #6

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    I have an 8 year old who is a reluctant writer, but an active composer. At an early age he learned how to use the video camera feature on his tablet and started making YouTube-style videos. With little to no guidance from me, he has been working on creating stories through stop-motion and he has created how-to videos. He doesn't view it as writing, but for understanding the general concepts of composition, creating mini films has worked wonders.

    I am hoping to work backwards and when he is ready, that we can do the preliminary writing, storyboarding and the like to plan longer projects. Encourage writing to improve the content of the films. But we are a long way from that.
    A mama who teaches college writing, as well as help her 11-year-old in
    choosing his own life adventure. Using Global Village School to support our desire to develop a sense of social justice and global awareness.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mariam View Post
    I have an 8 year old who is a reluctant writer, but an active composer. At an early age he learned how to use the video camera feature on his tablet and started making YouTube-style videos. With little to no guidance from me, he has been working on creating stories through stop-motion and he has created how-to videos. He doesn't view it as writing, but for understanding the general concepts of composition, creating mini films has worked wonders.

    I am hoping to work backwards and when he is ready, that we can do the preliminary writing, storyboarding and the like to plan longer projects. Encourage writing to improve the content of the films. But we are a long way from that.
    That is a fantastic idea, Mariam, working backwards. I love it! Take what he loves, and use it to skill build. If kids are already invested, learning will be much more meaningful and more easily sustained. Good luck!

    Mrs. Barrett

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Writing by Doing: From Circuit Board to Homemade Volcano