Maryann Molishus is not just any fifth-grade teacher, she is an advocate for hands-on, experiential learning and a champion for the importance of a positive classroom experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Maryann rallied a few colleagues and three amazing fifth-grade students to apply for a grant from their district’s Council Rock Education Fund to develop a makerspace-type program. With the grant in hand and the support of their principal they were able to get started.
“Our principal gave the OK to purchase a class set of accounts for Fab@School Maker Studio, and it is the perfect fit for elementary students,” she shared. “The last piece, the creativity and collaboration needed to design interesting products, comes from our fantastic students! Our intent is to spend at least this school year learning how the grant materials can best be used by our school population and then put together a program we can share with all our elementary schools.”
Maryann, a FabAwesome FableVision Learning Ambassador, was kind enough to share her and her students’ experiences using Fab@School in their classroom. Read on!
How did you hear about FableVision Learning and then become an ambassador?
In 2004 it seemed that wherever I went I was crossing paths with Peter and Paul Reynolds and the folks at FableVision. In quick succession I heard Peter speak during a virtual author visit with hundreds of students across Pennsylvania, then at a live meet-up in Philadelphia at what was then NECC (now the ISTE Conference), and we had a mutual connection to the Pennsylvania Keystone Technology Integrators Program that had just begun. Soon after I volunteered to be part of Paul Reynolds’s graduate research project, The North Star Virtual Community. I began using The North Star Classroom Program in my classroom and we even did a performance of The North Star Musical Journey with one of my second grade classes. It was some time later that I connected with the amazing Terry Shay and the ambassador program and began participating in fun events such as International Dot Day.
Tell us a bit about your classroom and what the students are working on.
I am currently teaching fifth graders at Goodnoe Elementary School in Newtown, Pennsylvania. It’s my fifth year in fifth grade, after teaching second grade at the same school for eleven years. Additionally, I moderate a grades 5-6 STEM Club once a week during recess and lunch. The 5-6 STEM Club students are working on a variety of projects and are learning new skills such as computer programming and digital fabrication. Currently, our fifth graders are working on an interdisciplinary project. They are combining math, engineering, art, and some very much needed collaborative skills to create a “solid sculpture” that will be displayed on our hallway bulletin board.
How are you using Fab@School Maker Studio into your classroom?
There are a couple of ways we are using Fab@School Maker Studio. First, my homeroom is working on their “solid sculptures.” Small groups have been given the challenge of collaborating to create an interesting sculpture that includes a cone, cube, two rectangular prisms, a cylinder, a square pyramid, and one other solid shape. The total volume of each sculpture needs to be between 60-250 cubic inches. The colors, patterns, and configuration of shapes is their creative choice. The small groups are working hard to learn how to use Fab@School, how to calculate volume, and how to design the various shapes. We began the project by assigning student trainers that took on the role of ‘team leader’, introducing their group members to the new program and guiding them on how to use it. Team leaders are also responsible for keeping the group organized, maintaining the design notes, and making sure everyone in the group is participating.
Students are also using Fab@School in our new “STEM Special”. This STEM Special has been put in place in lieu of our weekly computer lab block. Students work on independent digital projects, some of which involve electronics and cardboard, and many that include designs students are creating using Fab@School.
Finally, we also offer a weekly STEM Club to all students in a more informal setting. The students are just beginning to learn Fab@School and are so excited to start planning their projects!
What are some of the challenges/lessons you are tackling with Maker Studio?
One of our primary challenges at the moment is setting up our hardware to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. As the class begins to learn and use Fab@School Maker Studio, we are working out how to get the printing and cutting process to work optimally using our current district hardware. We are learning what works best and what our major hurdles are so we can sort those out with our administration and tech support. We want to make the best choices in our setup so we can hopefully share the program with all of our students.
Can you share one wonderful aha teaching moment you’ve had this week?
Yes, a wonderful aha moment occurred when I first introduced Fab@School to my class and they began their Solid Sculpture project. The small groups busily assigned jobs, got some training on the program, and began researching volume formulas they would need for their solid shapes. After a little over an hour, time was up. As I instructed the students to clean up their materials, one student called out, “What, time’s up? We didn’t even do any math today!” After spending an hour focused on geometry and measurement, it was quite surprising that the students didn’t realize that they were, in fact, doing math. I took the opportunity to explain once again just what they were doing and its connection to our math program. Project-based learning is a great way to learn as it allows students to become fully invested in their work, so much so that they forget they are even doing “school work.” I can honestly say that the students are actively and happily engaged in mathematical conversations at a fifth grade level and more!