Casting Off

Cardboard Boats

Today saw the fruition of an ambitious project! The blue band went to Stow Lake to test the boats they built from cardboard and plastic.  The beauty of this project is that even though both boats ended up as piles of card board slush, everyone came out of the experience feeling like they had done something great.

Cardboard Boats

My goal as an educator isn’t to prepare the next generation of boat builders but rather to foster the skills that will help these kids turn their aspirations into reality.  In this project we were breaking down and reflecting on the qualities of good teamwork and leadership.

 

Cardboard Boats

We started this project with a couple of team building challenges.  The blue band had to work together to crack the code of this matrix.  They discovered that the missteps they made were important information.  They had to work together to track and convey the proper order of steps to unlock the puzzle. In another team building challenge the students had to stand in a tight circle and pick up pieces of paper far out of their reach.  They discovered that to be successful they had to physically counter balance each other and use their words to communicate.

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Referencing these challenges the group built a rubric of qualities that makes up good team work.  Here is the list they came up with:

  • Communicate in a clear and kind way.
  • Listen and snap ideas together.
  • Care for each other when we make mistakes because they are important parts of learning.
  • Appreciate other people’s strengths instead of focusing on what they aren’t doing.
  • Be helpful and focused.

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Because we were working in a new medium with a dangerous tool, we sat down with a cardboard master, our very own Willow.  He gave the students techniques to cut cardboard safely and effectively with a box cutter.  Thus prepared, the blue band was split into teams and got started sketching and modeling their ideas.

Cardboard Boats

After a day of creating models the teams came together snap together their separate ideas.  First they looked for similarities in their designs and then they figured out what other features they should include.  This process of turning individual ideas into a collective vision is really difficult and requires a high level of communication, flexibility and good will.  I was impressed by the way both teams built upon each other’s ideas

Cardboard Boats

When the teams had settled on designs they got to work cutting and taping together their boats!  A mantra for those easily distracted was, “How can I help?”  For those who were trying on leadership roles, they practiced seeing people’s strengths and passions and finding jobs that leveraged those strengths.

Cardboard Boats

Ronan and Isaac applied the laws of buoyancy that we’d been discovering in order to calculate how much weight their boats could safely carry.  They calculated the volume of their boats and figured out the weight of the water it would displace.  They predicted that both of the boats would be able to carry over a thousand pounds of weight.  Theoretically, these boats could carry a couple of 9 and 10 year olds with no problem.

Cardboard Boats

Their final step was to wrap their boats in plastic to protect the cardboard from turning to slush.

Cardboard Boats

Despite the mathematical modeling that predicted the boats could carry thousands of pounds, everyone was dubious of these boat’s ability to actually float.  Before leaving for Stow Lake almost everyone predicted disaster.  The boat will flip over, the walls will cave in, they will sink!

Cardboard Boats

Because the kids had envisioned all the ways that these boats would fail, the moment when Soleil and Sadie stepped into their boat for the first time was met with shrieks of delighted disbelief.  As they pushed off into the lush green waters of Stow Lake the crowd of on lookers accumulating on the banks cheered.

The second boat was just as much a success.

Cardboard Boats

As Gita and Lily glided out onto the lake passerby’s stopped to ask the kids left on the bank what the heck was going on.  What kind of strange and amazing school is this that sends students out in homemade cardboard boats!

It was a beautiful day to paddle on the lake.

Cardboard Boats

After 15 minutes or so of leisurely paddling both boats started to take on water from tears in the plastic.  Sadie and Soleil were able to paddle back to the bank before they had taken on too much water.

Cardboard Boats

Lily and Gita, however, got stuck in some trees and weren’t able to paddle back to shore.  I had to make a rescue on my surfboard!

Cardboard Boats

Whether they felt upset or exhilarated by their experiences in the sinking boats, the sailors and their teams met the challenge with bravery and compassion.  Later, having changed into dry clothes, the band gathered over hot cocoa to appreciate each other for the contributions they made to this ambitious project.  They reflected on the part they played in their group and ways they would like to grow as a team member.  A toast to the blue band who met with challenges and didn’t lose sight of the most important thing: each other!

Cardboard Boats

 

 

 

Bouyancy and Row Boats

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As one of our first field trips the Blue Band went to the aquatic park to learn how to both row and build a boat.  It was a beautiful day to be out on the water.

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Excited by the experience of rowing in the bay the band was a buzz with aspirations of  building their own boat. Before diving into that ambitious project we had to better understand why things float.

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“What are the qualities of something that floats?”  This is the question that launched the Blue Band into an exploration of buoyancy.  To answer this question our intrepid young scientists have rolled up their sleeves, formed hypothesis, tested those hypothesis and of course gotten wet in the process.

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The first experiment: Will it float?  The Blue Band found objects around the school to drop into water.  First they made their predictions about whether the object would float and why then they tested their objects.  There were some surprising findings.  Despite predictions, a heavy paintbrush, whose bristles were cased in metal, actually floated.  My heavy thermos that is made of metal also floated.  These surprises helped the young scientists revise their definition of what floats.  They had discovered that there were three important variables:  size, weight and shape.

Week 1 and 2

In our next experiment we endeavored to find out if there is a relationship between size and weight.  We had been using graphs to find patterns in data so we decided to collect and graph some measurements.  In four teams of two the students weighed bags of wood, ceramic, PVC and steel. Then, using the Archimedes principal of displacement, they figured out the volume of each material.

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They graphed these points and discovered that their data points formed a rough line.  Upon discovering this relationship we put a name to it: Density.  Things that are small and heavy are more dense than things that are big and light.

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Interpreting the graph the students discovered that the wood was less dense than the water, where as the PVC, steel and ceramic were more dense.  The wood was the only material that floated!  One of the qualities of something that floats is that it is less dense than water.

“If steel sinks, why can a ship made from steel float?” Next the young scientists looked at how shape effects an object’s ability to float.  They were given a lump of clay that sunk and were asked to create a shape that could float.

Week 1 and 2

Next they were given tin foil and challenged to make a vessel that could float the most pennies.  They made two iterations and graphed their findings.

To bring together all of our explorations, the Blue Band watched everyone’s favorite mad scientist, Bill Nye, explain buoyancy to us.  Bill’s message: Things float when the water they displace is greater than or equal to the weight of the thing.  This time the blue band designed their own experiment to test this claim.  They decided to fill beakers to the brim with water, drop objects in to the water and compare the weight of the water that splashes out with the object.  They discovered that the things that sunk weighed more than the water that was displaced and the things that floated weighed equal to or less than the water displaced.

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Equipped with a better understanding of buoyancy, the blue band has a new challenge in front of them!  They are building boats from cardboard and plastic that will float at least one person.

 

A Walk Back In Time

At Brightworks we have certain traditions in the beginning of a new arc.  Gever always gives a presentation that covers the scope of the arc topic and the bands always have some sort of brainstorm where they map out their interests.  Given that the Arc is By Land, I was expecting that my students would want to make some sort of vehicle, but no!  When we sat down to brainstorm the Blue Band expressed an overwhelming interest in studying how early people migrated across continents and how the First Peoples in North America lived.

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In the past weeks, the Blue Banders have explored the most basic of by land transportation: Walking!  What circumstances and mutations led to humans’ ability to walk?  We uncovered some answers in the documentary The Origin of Us by Dr. Alice Roberts and in the copious books we brought back from the library.  We learned that walking upright also freed early human hands to create tools.

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We were visited by three experts in the evolutionary relevance of flint knapping!  Last year Selina, Huxley and Freddie made a documentary about this very topic.  In the process of making this documentary, they learned how to make stone tools.

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After establishing safety guidelines and explaining how obsidian shatters in what is called a Hertzian cone.  Huxley, Selina and Freddie showed the blue banders how to make their own obsidian and chert flakes.

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The Blue Band got to use their creations to slice through cordage and cut an apple.  Giving them some insight into what it may have been like to rely on stone tools of their own creation.

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The Blue Band has started a new novel study to accompany our study of First Peoples.  Sees Behind Trees, by Michael Dorris, is a coming of age story about a nearly blind boy who learns to use his other senses to find his place in the tribe.

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This beautifully written book has been a great resource to us as the band writes their novels.  We’ve been savoring the rich language, noticing how the author builds suspense, and keeping track of all the different ways to say, “said”.

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So much about reading a novel is about empathizing with another person’s experience.  To connect with the main character in our story’s experience we’ve been playing games and taking on challenges that put us in our own senses. At Potrero Hill community garden the Blue Band lead each other on blindfolded sense walks.  Ramses gives Ronan sprig of mint to taste and Isaac leads Sadie down the trail.

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To delve deeper into what it might be like for our main character we turned to one of my favorite podcasts Invisibilia.  This episode tells a story of a blind man who explains how other people’s expectations of him helped him to see.  Because his mom expected him from a young age to do all the things a person with sight to do he developed a way to navigate the world just like everyone else.

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What a wonderful path these kids chose.  I’m excited to continue exploring it with them!

 

 

NANOWRIMO

NANOWRIMO, short hand for national novel writing month, is a time in which students put their inner editor on the shelf and write their stories.  November is upon us, but luckily the Blue Band won’t be embarking on this ambitious venture empty handed. For the past month the Blue Band has been planning out their novels and getting hyped about writing.  They have drawn pictures of their main characters, given them hopes and dreams, fears and obstacles.  They have studied texts like our read aloud, The Extraordinary Tale of Ordinary Basil, to understand better the elements of plot.  They’ve learned about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and used this to interpret stories they’ve read and guide their own story. They have made sketches of their settings and they have been learning the art of dialogue. With this road map to their story they will be ready to set out into the wilderness of their imaginations!

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We’ve also been learning about what it means to be an author.  The Blue and Orange bands attended LitQuake at the public library where they met authors and listened to them speak about their craft.  They spoke about everything from where they get their inspiration to how many different drafts they wrote before their books were published!

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The whole group couldn’t wait to get back and read the books they had gotten from the event.  Some students even got their books autographed! It’s great to see everyone getting so amped about reading and writing stories.

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This week we had a visit from Piper’s dad, Evan Sagerman, a published children’s book author.  He read us one of his books and then explained the process he went through to get his work published.  It was impressive to see just how many drafts he went through before he settled on the best way to draw his giraffe!

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Evan Sagerman’s publisher also asked him to write a three sentence description of his story, the kind you find on a book jacket.  The Blue Band took a shot at describing their own stories in three sentences or less.  Though these stories are liable to transform and grow in the coming month, here is a rough sketch of what each of the Blue Band will be writing in the coming month:

Gita

“Elliana is a nice girl who loves her dog and just wants some friends. When she goes to school, it is too bad that Jessica wants only herself to be friends with Alma and Alejandra.  Will Elliana only have her dog to count on for her life or will she stand up to Jessica?”
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Ramses

“There was a boy named Ramses and he was a normal boy.  He made friends with a vampire boy.  They are looking for a jewel that turns vampires back to humans.  There is a evil villain vampire killer who is in their way.”
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Ronan

“Clavis Carmine lives in a three story mansion on top of candlewick hill.  Clavis might seem like an ordinary boy and for the most part he is, but one thing made him stand out: a small gem…”

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Soleil

“Tahani doesn’t have time for her inner love of science.  What happens when she decides to make her science experiment at Hamiton Middle School in Jacksonville?  Tahani wants everything living to be respected but the science experiment goes crazy.  While she is at it she goes on adventures.  One adventure involves talking candy!”

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Sadie

“Katie Storm is 13 and she lives in London.  Katie just wants to see her dad again, but she gets on a train and has to do a bunch of trials.  The train is not an ordinary train. This story doesn’t have a happy ending!”
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Isaac

“I’m writing a fan fiction about Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter.”

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Tamasen

“This is a story about a girl who goes to look for her lost parents.  On the way she has to face poof the villain who is a small puff ball.”

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Lily

“My story is going to be a graphic novel about a girl who looks really dark but is really optimistic and a boy who looks really bright but us super pessimistic.  They go on a camping trip together.”

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I can’t wait to see all of these stories come to life over the next month!

 

Exploring Polygons

This arc, the Blue Band took a deep dive into geometry.  Inspired by the polyhedrons we created for our hot air balloon project we set out to become better acquainted with the shapes we were using.  Paul Lockhart, in his defense of the open ended math problem once said, “Mental acuity of any kind comes from solving problems yourself, not from being told how to solve them.”  In that spirit we didn’t start with all of the vocabulary and relationships between shapes, we let the students discover it all for themselves. The band’s first challenge was to create a family tree of different shapes.  

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Some students grouped their shapes by number of sides, some grouped them by angle and others incorporated both of these aspects.

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The group’s next challenge was to see how many different polygons they could create using 4 triangles.

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They discovered fourteen different polygons that could be constructed from these four triangles.  We had been slowly becoming more familiar with the vocabulary of polygons. The teams came together to sort them based on number of sides into quadrilaterals, pentagons, hexagons and octogons.

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We did some explorations into different types of quadrilaterals.  The bands had to use peg boards to see how many different types of quadrilaterals they could make.  We then learned different names for these shapes and labeled them.

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Our study of shapes culminated with a reading of the Hungry Triangle by Marilyn Burns.  The students then wrote their own stories about a shapes.  Gita wrote about a heart that didn’t fit in amongst her fellow polygons because she had curved sides.  Ramses wrote about a triangle chicken that spent all day eating different triangles.  Ronan wrote about a circle that could be considered a polygon with infinite sides.  All of their stories revealed some deeper understanding of shapes and polygons.

Our Journey To Space

We did it!  The Blue and Yellow bands sent a balloon into the stratosphere.  It reached a height of 83,000 ft, roughly 3 times the height a commercial jet flies, before bursting and bringing back to earth footage from it’s journey.

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All big dreams have small beginnings and our adventure started here with this sketch by our expert ballooning enthusiast, Josh Myer (Calvin’s dad).  The band took notes, asked good questions and generally absorbed all the important mission information they could.   I love those faces!

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The students learned from their expert that the scope of this project was pretty large and the risk of losing our balloon and equipment was very real.  Like any ambitious project we divided ours into smaller more manageable segments.  The blue band split into two teams: Team Helium and Team Payload.

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The Yellow Band was tasked with figuring out where our balloon would land.  Gever briefed the whole team on wind and weather patterns and how they might effect our launch.  The students learned that wind speed and direction is different at higher altitudes.  This is why the speed at which our balloon rises effects the distance it travels.  The longer it stays at high altitudes the further it will be carried by strong high altitude winds.  This information would later become important in the Helium Team’s calculations.

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Team Payload’s first task was to weigh all of the ingredients of the payload so that the Team Helium could estimate the amount of helium they would need to buy.  They used the balance scale to weigh the go pro, GPS tracker, battery pack as well as the various packaging and lines.

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Team Payload had learned from our egg-drop challenge the importance of securing all of the equipment so it wouldn’t break.  They came up with a system for securing the equipment and lines to the styrofoam container in such a way that we could still remove them.  They were in charge of making sure all the important components were packed, charged, and turned on for the flight.

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Team Helium used the balloon performance calculator to estimate how much helium they would need.  They entered the weight of the balloon and the weight of the payload and then played around with the amount of lift until the balloon’s ascent rate was ideal. When they had figured out the amount of lift they recorded the cubic feet of helium we would need to create that lift.  It turned out we needed 76 cuft of helium, so we piled into the car and headed out to a party store to rent a tank of helium!

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Team Helium’s next big task was to go over the balloon filling procedure and create checklists.  They read a how-to guide and harvested important information on what to pack, safety procedures and the steps they would need to take to fill the balloon without popping it!

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Sadie and Isaac practice the knot they will need to use to tie off the balloon!  Sadie volunteered for this high stakes job, and pulled it off beautifully.

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On the day of the launch Ramses read the steps to the team and the rest of the Team followed his instructions for filling the balloon.

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First they attached the nozzle onto the tank.

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Then they attached the hose to the balloon and held it gently while the tank was turned on.

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It was amazing to see the balloon fill with air and start tugging on our lift scale.  We needed 1050 grams of lift in order to have a successful flight.  Different teams of two took turns holding the scale and reading out the amount of lift.  As the payload was attached to the balloon the you could feel the excitement and tension.  We were so close to launch and nothing had gone wrong!  The balloon was finally launched amidst screams of relief and delight.  As the balloon floated away into a speck in the sky the kids ran around giving each other hugs and high fives and generally wearing out their vocal chords!

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Had we known, when we left the Lawrence Hall of Sciences to chase down the balloon, that we would be returning home hours past everyones bed time, we might have turned back.

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But if we had, we would’ve missed one of those golden moments of childhood, when you leave the safety of routine, do something difficult and then discover that despite all odds your story has a happy ending!

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Back at school the following week, we coaxed a story out of the lists of numbers recovered from our GPS.  We discovered that the balloon had traveled 115 flat miles, ascended to 82,798 ft and reached speeds up to 73 mph.

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The Blue Band graphed the altitude data and got an idea of the path our brave balloon took through the sky.

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You can see footage of the earth from near space as well as the launch.  It is truly breath taking.  I hope you enjoy it!

A Digression Into Parachutes

When I reflect on this past week in the Blue Band a line from our read aloud The Twenty-One Balloons comes to mind.  William Pene du Bois is explaining why ballooning is the best mode of travel.  He says,

“In a balloon you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop.  The rest is left entirely to nature.  How fast you will go and where is left to the winds.  It is a wonderful way to travel.”

As a collaborator I strive always to be a balloonist.  I know our starting point and usually have a good idea of where we will end up, but I like to let the winds of opportunity and students’ interest to carry us to new territory.  This week our band got carried away with parachutes!

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Last week Piper and I introduced a new project.  The Yellow and Blue bands are sending a helium balloon into the stratosphere to take pictures of the earth from the edge of space.  This is a complex and exciting project!  One of the most important problems that the kids need to solve is how to protect our equipment as it plummets down to earth from space.  So we gave them the good ole egg drop challenge!

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Each team was given an egg and asked to design a container that would protect their egg from a 61 foot fall.  Here we are on the roof measuring just how high we would be dropping our eggs from!

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In the Blue band every single design included a parachute.

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Every single design was successful!  Look at the glee on these kids’ faces!  What a great day!

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It was interesting to see how everyone converged on a parachute design so I invited my friend John, a sky diver, to come and talk to us about his parachute.

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He walked us through the physics and felt experience of sky diving as we watched footage of his jumps.  The Blue band was brimming with questions.  Some of my favorites included: “Are you scared when you jump out of the plane?”, “Has an animal ever sky dived?” and “Does the wind feel like a massage on your stomach as you fall?”

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John explained to us that each square foot of parachute equals just about 1 pound of drag.  We laid out his parachute and tried to figure out how much he weighs by finding the area of the parachute.  It was a big multiplication problem because we were working with large dimensions.  So we tackled it as a group looking at different strategies to break down and rebuild the problem to make it easier.

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I can’t pass up an opportunity to make a connection between math and the world so the following morning I gave them a parachute math provocation.  Each person got a piece of paper with all sorts of different creatures that wanted to go skydiving, like penguins (22 lbs), grandmas (120lbs), and pineapples (8 lbs). They had to use the base ten blocks to build parachutes for these creatures.   They were finding factors by creating arrays which modeled multiplication problems and having fun while doing it!  Tamasen and Sadie asked if we could do this same problem again the following day!

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I want my students to be able to go their own pace and make their own discoveries.  So I am always looking for problems that can accommodate all sorts of discoveries.  This one really caught everyone’s imagination.  Gita discovered that there are multiple ways to build a parachute. “Two fourteens and four sevens are the same number!”   Ronan shared with everyone, “I’ve found a hack!  You just have to multiply the number by itself!”   Tamasen, Sadie and Lily each made the discovery that a parachute was a multiplication problem.

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From egg drops to sky diving to parachute multiplication it has been such a rich and inspiring week.  Traveling on the winds of our curiosity the Blue band has drifted into some interesting new territories.  Next week we will be refocusing on our weather balloon launch!