Preschool Engineers Engaged in Making

Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It’s posing questions and coming up with a method. It’s delving in.

~ Sally Ride


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Engineering Lesson with Legos

Using the Engineering Design Process, students read a blueprint, constructing a launcher and spinning top, making and recording their predictions and guiding questions to explore and think like scientists! They worked in pairs and had to predict which of the two spinning tops they built would spin long or longer.

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For Part 2 of this activity, students created their own spinners. They used the data they recorded in Part 1 and create their own spinning top with cardboard and one of their tops.

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Young STEAM Inventors as Robotics Engineers

Students wanted to create robots, and so their classroom teacher served as a facilitator for their explorations. See their creations in the slideshow below.

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Wind, Marble Runs, and Scientific Inquiry

“If a kid shows a spark in anything, we need to help stoke that fire. When a student reaches a hard concept in math or science, we should model perseverance by helping them break down the challenge into smaller steps.”

~ astronaut Scott Kelly in a recent Time Magazine article


Blowing in the Wind

During the week before April Break, Grade 1 continued studying the unit on Weather. We delved deep into the study of wind. We read fiction and non-fiction stories about the wind. We experimented with various wind tools, such as anemometers to capture wind speed, parachutes, pinwheels propellers. We researched information about pinwheels, windmills and wind turbines. Students shared with me that they have seen wind turbines close to the oil tank on Highway 93, and that they now understand how the wind turbines  generate electricity that helps our community. I read an article focused on high school students learning how to fix and install wind turbines on land and in the ocean at Martha’s Vineyard.

This week, first grade students will observe and record the phases of the moon with their families. They will then record their findings in their moon journal. I gave the journals to the students’ homeroom teachers prior to April Break so that they would be distributed to each student. We will begin reflecting on their sightings later on this semester during a period I like to call our Young Steam Inventors period.

Run, Marble, Run

Students were engaged with constructing a marble run where the marbles could run “super fast”. They were testing out different theories. One theory was that if they used a bunch of marbles at once, that the marbles would move faster than using just one or two. They also became really interested in how marbles are made. In case you’re also interested in how marbles are made, you can check out this video by the Discovery Channel and this question on Quora.
“What’s inside the marbles?” asked one of my students, Ritaj. Some of her classmates started to respond:

  • “I think it’s a feather?”
  • “I think there are flowers inside of the marbles.”
  • “I think there is plastic inside of the marbles.”
“What if break it open and find out? asked Ritaj. “What if we check on the computer and find out?” asked Hafsa. I helped the students use the internet to research their question. One of my students gave the following remark:  “We did some research and found out it’s called a cat eye and it’s made out of different colored glass inside of the marble.”

Safe Search for Kids

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!