This Month in the YSI Classroom

“To empower our pupils for the future, we must prioritize learning through play over standardized testing.”   ~ The LEGO Foundation

Kindergarten – Paper and Wood Unit

Kindergarten students have been exploring simple machines in connection with the science unit on Paper and Wood. I introduced the wheel, the lever, the screw, the wedge, the incline plane, and the pulley. I set up examples of all of these simple machines in the hallway and in the Makerspace. Students were then able to investigate how all machines, including simple machines, have been designed to make work easier for us. We experimented with simple machines and the principals of movement and force.

Our exploration of simple machines serves as the springboard into the design process of constructing treehouses and fairy-houses. Using the design process students started using their imagination to think and describe their ideas. We researched tree houses and fairy-houses through books, “A Tree House” poem by Shel Silverstein, and other resources.

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Students were inspired this week and started drawing their blueprints. Their favorite story was Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Tree Houses of Central Park, and photographs of treehouses and fairy-houses from around the world. Two students continued to add on to their treehouses after looking at The 13 Story Treehouse series (the last book is a 91 Story Treehouse).The author of the series drew blueprints inside of the covers of each book. Students loved some of the ideas, and these two particular students designed a skateboard board park, shark eating tank, a bowling alley and several other fun rooms for their treehouse.

I’ve established criteria for their constructions. All structures have to include the following:

  • a bridge
  • a ladder
  • a slide (simple machine) and one other machine of their choosing
  • railings or a wall (we talked about what railings were)
  • a platform (this was a new word for most kids)

I am challenging students to include at least two simple machines into their blueprints. They can add whatever else they’re inspired to create. Students already had great ideas and have excitedly told me what they want to create. One of my students named Gary said to me, “Ms. Alicia, science is better than ice cream!” Check out some of Gary’s blueprints below:

Next week, we will finish up their blueprints and begin constructing Treehouses and Fairy-houses.

Grade 1 – Weather Unit

Grade 1 students are celebrating National Poetry Month by creating poems about the weather. Their poems will be displayed on the third floor outside of their home room teachers’ classroom. I captured some of the students’ work through photos. Here is Mae writing her rain poem.

For the rest of this month, we will graph the weather and analyze the data. Next week, we will dive in deeper and design air balloons. Students were excited to hear that!

Rising To the Challenge


Kindergarten and Grade 1 Young STEAM Inventors were recently asked to do a Tower Building Design Challenge. Setting up a design challenge is a great way to evaluate students’ understanding of different engineering concepts.

Candy Tower Design Challenge

If you have ever had a teacher have you build a bridge with marshmallows and toothpicks, I challenged my students to do a similar task building towers with soft candies and a variety of materials that would serve as beam or supports. Here were my instructions for the Candy Tower Design Challenge.

1) Build a tall tower with the following materials:

  • Interlocking popsicle sticks
  • Cups
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Marshmallows
  • Spaghetti
  • Gum drops
  • Toothpicks

2) Measure your towers, and add up the combined height to win!

The engineering came into play as the students had to develop an understanding of stable and unstable. There was also a lot of materials science involved; they had to test their ideas with different materials so that their could determine which materials were easiest to build with, and which materials were not.

Card Tower Design Challenge

Students also built towers using playing cards. They had to figure out what shape they could turn the card into to in order to build a stable structure. They thought it would be easy because they had the smaller wooden pieces. However, I gave them a design constraint by saying that they could only use five wooden pieces and that the rest had to be the cards. They then discovered how to bend the cards into different shapes in order to make their structures sound. You can view their structures in the slideshow below.

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I think our Young STEAM Inventors’ towers are more impressive than this 2009 cover of Appleseed Magazine!


STEAM At the “Literacy Is Liberation” Conference


On Saturday, March 12, 2018, the Black Achievement Network (BAN) held a free, one-day conference at Northeastern’s John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute. The goal of the conference was to bring parents, students, practitioners, activists, and researchers together to connect history with the present, and to highlight enduring importance of literacy in each of these struggles. For the conference, I designed a learning experience during lunch entitled “Exhibit Exemplary STEAM for Young Children”.

Creating a Space for Young STEAM Inventors In the Making

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I invited children of all ages to explore the room through stations. One station was for treehouse-building. In the area, I had them draw and design their tree houses, and then use unit blocks to construct their tree houses based on their blueprints. Another station had them building ramps  using the Lego STEAM Park kit and Kapla blocks, and testing them out using the bears in wheelchairs from the Lego kit. The third station had social-emotional role-playing using the Build-Me-Emotions Lego kit. This was a big hit with the parents, especially with parents of multiple children who were interested in exploring conflict resolution and problem-solving activities. On one of the long tables, I set up a station with various engineering challenges. One challenge was to build the alphabet using Legos; another challenge was to use math Unifex cubes to build everyday objects.

To engage the older students, I set up a station with Gadgets & Gizmos kits where they looked at hydrolics and other systems to create structures. In one of the corners, students were invited to interact with the Blocks & Blueprints game. If you are interested in purchasing the game, you should check out the Lakeshore Learning site. Finally, I incorporated art through a painting station that I captured several pictures of. Watch our Young STEAM Inventors engage with the many different challenges and stations I set up in the slideshow below.

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It’s Liberating to Show and to Receive Love

Thanks again to Craig Martin (principal of The Perkins School) for visiting my room, and for the awesome tweet!

Literacy Is Liberation Reading List

I’m including in this post the list of books that I incorporated in my learning space for the conference. I hope that they bring as much enrichment to your students and to your classrooms as they do my own!

  • “Engineering Close-Up” series – Engineers Solve Problems, Engineers Build Models, Engineering In Our Everyday Lives, and How Engineers Find Solutions by Richard and Robin Johnson
  • “Young Engineers” series – Building Bridges, Building Vehicles That Roll, Building Structures and Towers, and Building Vehicles That Fly by Tammy Enz
  • Super Cool Construction Activities with Max Axiom by Tammy Enz
  • What Color Is My World? by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
  • What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada
  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
  • The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
  • Tree Houses You Can Actually Build by Jeanie and David Stiles
  • Treehouses Of The World by Pete Nelson
  • Treehouse by Karen Hoenecke
  • The 12-Story Treehouse; The 26-Story Treehouse; and The 39-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths
  • A Walk Through the Woods: A Poetic Journey by Reginald Shelton
  • Up In the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses by Shira Boss
  • My Hair Grows Like a Tree by Tamika Phillip
  • I Am Enough by Keturah Bobo
  • Great Black Heroes: Five Brilliant Scientists by Lynda Jones
  • On the Job With An Architect: Builder of the World by Jake Miller and Susan Gal
  • Block Building For Children: Making Buildings of the World with the Ultimate Construction Toy by Lester Walker
  • Architect Academy by Essi Kimpimaki and Steve Martin

To extend your child’s skills, I encourage you to also check out the Kumon series of workbooks for young children. The titles I have in my collection include My Book of Mazes: Around the WorldMy Book of Mazes: Things that GoScience Pre-K and Up; and My First Book of Tracing.



A Quick Peek Into the Grade 1 Classroom

I start with a question and work backwards to an experience with my students. This is a shift. It takes it slower but the learning deepens!

~ Alicia Carroll


The Grade 1 students are finishing up their unit on “Solids and Liquids”. In the science curriculum, students act as scientists and to conduct investigations of liquids. They are expected to know how various liquids look and feel, their fluidity, how they mix with water, and their degree of absorption.

Oil and Water

By pouring shampoo, vegetable oil, and glue into cups of water, Young Steam Inventors were able to observe whether each one mixes with water. This experiment provided YSI to observe how some liquids float in water, while others sank. The reading selection, “Oil Spills: Cleaning Up and Keeping Clean,” provided a real-life example of what can happen when two liquids-oil and water-combine. YDI made predictions of what would happen, tested their predictions, recorded their observations, and discuss their results within their science groups.


We experimented with bubbles in the cold weather, and each student recorded their observations in their science journals. I also interviewed some of them. Check out the following photos of our Grade 1 Young STEAM Inventors exploring bubbles and recording their data.

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Grade 1 students explored the properties of crayons and learned that by adding heat, crayons could change from a liquid to a solid. They also learned that one mixes colored wax in its liquid state. I used a long handled lighter for the demonstration. Coincidentally, we had a surprise fire drill, but the students thought I set off the school fire alarm! This week, we are finishing up our experiments and recording their data into their science journals. I was told that this was the best science experiment of the year!

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We also read the book, The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, and each student chose their favorite color crayon to write a postcard to. The Young STEAM Inventors were inspired by our hands-on experiments to think about other ways their favorite crayon could be changed. We watched a film called “How Crayons Are Made,” and students used their creativity to rename different crayons. One student wanted to rename the white crayon Marshmallow and wanted it to smell like marshmallows!


Engineering With the Habits of Mind

What Are the Habits of Mind?

As some of you may know, I was a founding teacher of the Mission Hill School. While there, the Mission Hill Habits of Mind were developed as a way of thinking and as a way to establish what it means to be a “well-educated person”. These Habits of Mind help students to seek knowledge by asking good questions, as well as using sound methods for finding the answer. These habits are also a key part of thinking like, and becoming, an engineer!

What Kinds of Knowledge Are Students Creating?

  • EvidenceHow do we know what’s true and false? What evidence counts? How sure can we be? What makes it credible to us? Methods: Scientific Method, Design Cycle

K2 and Grade 1 students

  • ViewpointHow else might this look like if we stepped into other shoes? If we were looking at it from a different direction? If we had a different history or expectation? Methods: empathy and imagination


  • Cause and Effect: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? What are the possible consequences? Methods: research, historical knowledge, Scientific Method

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Grade 1 students

  • ConjectureWhat if…? Could it have been otherwise? Methods: imagination; knowledge of alternative possibilities; other Habits of Mind 

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  • RelevanceDoes it matter? Who cares?

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“We look like engineers ’cause we are!”

Here are more of our Young STEAM Inventors showing the relevance of our classroom activities and using the Habits of Mind to be like engineers:


Discussing STEAM, LEGO, and Early Education on TeacherCast

Last month, I was a featured guest on the TeacherCast podcast with Jeff Bradbury for a segment titled “Creating a MakerSpace For Our Youngest Learners”. You can listen to the podcast on the TeacherCast site!

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The Lego Education headquarters in Denmark invited me, my colleague Myrna, and Kate Leiss to discuss our work with Steam Park and STEAM in schools and with families. Research has indicated that children need STEM experiences and a solid foundation starting at three years old (source 1, source 2). So, we talked about 21st-century skills, the importance of beginning in Pre-K, and teaching these skills through twelfth grade.

Tweet me @ACarrollYSI to let me know your thoughts!

Bringing Project Zero Learnings To the Early Education Classroom

“As kids in the traditional kindergarten were playfully designing and creating things, they were developing as creative thinkers….That’s exactly what we need.” 

~ Mitch Resnick, MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Group


For three years, I learned with and under Dr. Steve Seidel at Project Zero about practices for making student learning the focus of the classroom. Through different tools and perspectives, we are able to understand cross-cultural and cross-cultural thinking and creating. I have included below the different ways that we have recently incorporated these learnings into the Young STEAM Inventors classroom.

Create A Culture of Thinking

How do we create a classroom culture that supports student development and effective teaching practices?

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“I’m building a dragon. I’m using the cannon for the fire and the crane for the brain of the dragon. The target will be part of his body. I’m going to put another target and then I’m going to test it out. I’m using the black piece to make the dragons tail. This cannon will hold the fire for my dragon and then the cannon shoots the fire out. I’m thinking about how the fire will protect the dragon so no one hurts it. The white brick is the dragon bone. Wait it’s not working so I’m going to use another idea. In the dragons brain he is thinking about ideas like me. Everything fell down so now I have to fix it. The blue brick is the eye. And the cannon is now the top of the head instead. The dragon can still breath fire out on the cannon. It was easy to make because I added the bottom and the blue brick to make it sturdy. It can wobble because I used the yellow and brown bouncy brick. It won’t fall down. The yellow and brown is the skin too because it stretches. It’s finished now.”

Make Your Learning Visible

How do we unlock the potential of group learning in the classroom so that both children (students) and adults (teachers and parents) learn from one another and engage with new perspectives and strategies for problem solving?

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Address Multiple Intelligences

How can we as educators understand and respond to the unique differences of each learner in the classroom?

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Teach For Understanding

How do we deepen both content learning and student’s thinking skills in all subjects and in all grade levels?

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Thinking and Learning In a Maker-Centered Classroom

How do we as educators and parents explore the opportunities created through maker-centered learning practices?

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“We used the book Road Builders to get ideas and then used our own ideas together. We worked together and we helped each other figure out stuff. Waldi was the architect and first built the police and train stations. Waldi drew the blueprint for the police and fire station.Christopher was the builder and help to build the road. Sebastian was the contractor and he helped with the whole job and had the idea of using a tunnel to connect all three stations. We added the train station later cause we had another idea. We want to add more to the police station tomorrow. We added a truck to bring the materials to the train station.”

Teaching For Understanding

How do we create and facilitate learning experiences that prepare students for functioning in the current society and for an uncertain future?


“Ms. Alicia, I’m the Science Girl!”


With that, I will see you next semester in 2018! I hope you enjoy the holiday season!