March 19, 2017

5 Steps to Make a Paper Rocket Launcher


For a fun makerspace activity, I created a rocket launcher from PVC pipe and a bike pump.  My K-5 elementary students will create paper rockets and have fun launching their rockets into the air.  

Here are five steps to create a paper rocket launcher on your own: 

1.  Gather your tools and materials.  For tools, you will need a miter saw, electric drill, drill bits, and sand paper.  For materials, you will need:
- (2) 5’ x 3/4” PVC pipe
- (3) 3/4” 90 degree elbow connectors
- (1) 3/4” shutoff valve
- (1) 3/4” end cap
- (1) tire valve (TR418)
- (1) PVC primer (optional)
- (1) PVC cement
- (1) bicycle pump



2.  Cut the PVC pipes.  Using a miter saw, cut the PVC pipes into the lengths below.  With sand paper, be sure to sand down any rough edges.  
- (2) 30” pipes
- (1) 36” pipe
- (1) 18” pipe
- (1) 6” pipe



3.  Drill the end cap to fit the tire valve.  Using an electric drill with a 5/16” bit, drill a hole in the top of the end cap.  Slip the tire valve into the opening - it should fit snuggly.  





4.  Cement the pieces together.  Ready your materials to assemble the launcher in the picture shown below.  Apply a little PVC primer (optional) and cement to the ends of each piece and glue them together.  The only piece I left unglued was the elbow attaching the launch pipe.  I did this so I can position it to match the makerspace activity.  If we want to see how high the rockets will go, I’ll position the launch pipe straight up.  If we want to see how far the rockets will go, I’ll position the launch pipe at an angle.  



5. Make a paper rocket.  Using tape and any type of paper (newspaper, copy paper, construction paper) make a rocket.  Let kids get creative with their rocket design, there's no wrong way to make a rocket.  I recommend using either a piece of PVC pipe or a paper towel roll to wrap paper around to make the body of the rocket.  This will ensure the paper rockets will fit the launcher pipe.  Below is an example of the rocket I made.  It doesn't have fins but it still works!



It’s launch time!  Place the paper rocket on the launcher pipe.  Be sure the shutoff valve is closed.  Use the bicycle pump to build up pressure.  Make sure participants have backed away and aren’t in danger of being hit with the rocket.  Next release the shutoff valve to send the rocket launching into the air!  Make it a contest and see whose rocket can go the highest or the farthest.  For an extension, have students calculate their rocket’s altitude or distance traveled.  


To make the rockets shoot higher, try modifying this design.  Like making the launch pipe closer to the shutoff valve or making it straight instead of square (however, a square one stands up on its own).

February 20, 2017

The Reading Challenge Ends . . . The 2016 Buckeye Book Award


And the reading challenge continues!  As stated in a previous post, my librarian friend Ashley Lambacher of the Book Talker and I are hosting the Buckeye Book Award Reading Challenge.  Our goal is to read all the past winners from the children’s book category in chronological order from 1982 to the present.  I will read the K-2 picture book winners and Ashley will read the 4-8/3-5 chapter book winners.  Today I continue my challenge by reading the winner of the K-2 Buckeye Book Award in 2016, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and illustrated Jon Klassen.

Sam and Dave are friends that set out on an adventure.  They decide to dig a hole in search of something “spectacular.”  They begin to dig but miss the diamond treasure hidden next to them - if only they had dug their hole a little more to the right! They dig a little deeper, but as they approach a bigger diamond . . . they miss it because they decide to dig in another direction!  Finding nothing, they decide to split up (Dave digs up and Sam digs down) but they miss an even bigger diamond - they would have found it if they’d just continued straight!  Next they decide to dig straight down, which causes them to miss the biggest diamond yet!  They become tired of digging and take a nap.  While they sleep, their dog digs his own hole to fetch a bone.  Then they all begin to fall through the air only to land in the spot where they first began to dig - or is it the same place after all?  While they didn’t find a spectacular item, they both agree that falling from the sky was pretty spectacular.  Jon Klassen’s illustrations are done in his signature earth tones with simple shapes and lots of texture.  This Caldecott award winning illustrations are a perfect match for Barnett’s tale of digging for treasure.  My students grades K-5 love this book, making it an understandable win for the 2016 Buckeye Book Award.

Ashley -  Your 2016 book is Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud.  My students really love this creep thriller.  What about your students?  I can see why it won a Buckeye Book Award.

After almost two years of reading, I’m sad to see our challenge end.  However I’m proud of our commitment  and collaboration to read all of the Buckeye Book Award winners since 1982.  Thanks for coming on the journey with me!

February 9, 2017

My #nf10for10 - Nonfiction Makerspace Books


I’m so excited to return for another round of 10 for 10 nonfiction books.  I enjoy the challenge of creating a meaningful list for my self and others, as well as reading all the wonderful lists posted by the community.  

The makerspace movement has greatly impacted my role as a school librarian within the past year.  I’ve read many helpful and inspiring books about makerspaces.  In August, I selected my top 10 fiction picture books for a makerspace.  Today, I’ve selected 10 nonfiction makerspace books that have been most helpful to me:


1. The Big Book of Makerspace Projects by Colleen Graves & Aaron Graves
If you’re looking for project ideas, this is an amazing book!  There are chapters about smart phone projects, paper circuits, coding, music instruments, sewing circuits, Makey Makey, LittleBits, and 3D printing.  Each chapter breaks down materials needed and step by step instructions to create thes cool maker pace projects.  My favorite chapter is titled “Starting Small and Low Cost.”  It gives instructions to make eight projects from every day items.  My personal favorites are Brush Bots, Scribble Bots, Kazoo, and Balloon Hovercraft.  


2. Free To Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds by Dale Dougherty with Ariane Conrad
This book provides great insight into the Maker Movement.  If you’d like to learn more about makerspaces or need justifications of their importance, this is a great resource.  It discusses making in schools, the work force, and in the future.  Makerspaces are not apart of a trendy movement.  They are revolutionizing the way students are educated, mirroring the future work force.


3. Making in the K-3 Classroom: Why, How, and Wow! by Alice Baggett
If you’re interested in bringing maker activities to students in grades K-3, this is a wonderful resource.  It outlines why and how to implement makerspace activities in classrooms for young learners.  In particular, I enjoyed the list of picture books that support a maker mindset of learning from mistakes.  


4. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Ph.D.
This book discusses many aspects of school makerspaces including a brief history, materials, environment, and resources.  If you’d like to start a makerspace, check out this book.  I found the prompt suggestions and advocacy information very helpful.


5. Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide For Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley
This is another book full of project ideas.  Many of these activities are targeted for children to do at home with their parents, but there are some great instructions for projects suitable for a school’s mekerspace.  Most notably, I like the ideas t make straw rockets, CD spinners, DIY robots, and drawing machines.  My personal favorite is the marble run created from toilet paper rolls!


6. The Robot Book by Bobby Mercer
This book is full of tutorials to make simple robots.  I love asking my students to make a robot from everyday materials, and this is a great resource.  In particular, I like the instructions to make a brush bot, scrub bot, tricolor bot, quad-color bot, cancan dancer, and the fantastic dancing machine. 


7. STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom by Jacie Maslyk
When I introduced makerspace to staff, students, and parents at my new school, I referenced this book.  It outlines the benefits of makerspaces, and specifically connects learning to the common core standards.  I particularly liked the list of makerspace advocates to follow on twitter, the consumable donations suggestions, and lists of resources.  There are even QR codes throughout the book to access additional resources.  


8. Rubber Band Engineer by Lance Akiyama
This book has tutorials to make projects with rubber bands.  My personal favorites are the simple rubber band shooter, the pyramid catapult, and the wire loop game.  I renamed the wire loop game to “steady hand game.”  I made a kit with pictures for students to construct the game.  When they’re done making it, they can play the game.  It's like a homemade game of Operation - kids love it!


9. Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by DK Smithsonian
This book has instructions for fun science experiments and makerspace projects. The projects I like best are the invisible ink, paper airplanes, cardboard speakers, balloon car, and sturdy bridge.  I put together a kit with all the materials and instructions to make the ballon car.  My students really enjoy making a car powered by balloon air.  I consider it a ‘make and take’ and allow them to take it home with them.  


10. The Kid’s Book of Simple Machines by Kelly Doudna
This book has simple machines for students to make and create.  Each contraction is outlined in simple steps accompanied with full-color, detailed images.  My favorite machines are the roller coaster race track made from foam pipe insulation, the basic balloon car made from a toilet paper tube, and the tabletop pinball game made with a rubber band ball launcher and a paint stirrer flipper. 

January 21, 2017

#mustreadin2017


Over the past few weeks I’ve seen many twitter and blog posts for #mustreadin2017 and I’ve decided to join the fun!  Hosted by Carrie Gelson of There’s a Book for That, I’m using my participation to motivate me to complete my must read book list throughout the year.  

There will be quarterly updates, so I'll be back in April to discuss my progress and create a new must read list.  To begin with, here’s my #mustreadin2017 to get me started in the new year:



The Challenge Continues . . . The 2015 Buckeye Book Award


And the reading challenge continues!  As stated in a previous post, my librarian friend Ashley Lambacher of the Book Talker and I are hosting the Buckeye Book Award Reading Challenge.  Our goal is to read all the past winners from the children’s book category in chronological order from 1982 to the present.  I will read the K-2 picture book winners and Ashley will read the 4-8/3-5 chapter book winners.  Today I continue my challenge by reading the winner of the K-2 Buckeye Book Award in 2015, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers.

Duncan’s crayons are not happy and they are on strike.  In their place they left a stack of letters detailing their grievances.  Yellow and orange want dibs on coloring the sun, while peach wants to know why his wrapper was torn off leaving him naked.  Beige is tired of being ignored next to brown, and blue is exhausted from overuse.  Pink wants to be used more explaining it’s not a color just for girls.  As the complaints pile up, Duncan figures out a solution by creating a colorful drawing that addresses all of the crayons issues.  Jeffers’ illustrations bring the crayons to life giving each wax tube detailed expressions and emotions.  My students really enjoy The Day the Crayons Quit and it’s follow up, The Day the Crayons Came Home, making it a notable winner for the Buckeye Book Award in 2015.

Ashley -  I know you and your students like the crayon books, and you’re a big fan of Oliver Jeffers.  Your upcoming 2015 book is Secrets According to Humphrey.  Do your students enjoy the Humphrey series as much as my students?  

Our reading challenge is almost over!  We only have one more book to read next month.  I’m sad to see our challenge end, but I’m proud of our commitment and collaboration.  

January 16, 2017

10 Steps to Make a Doodlebot


Creating a doodlebot is one of my student's favorite makerspace activities.  A doodlebot is a robot that is made from every day materials that draws, or doodles, on it's own.  Below are the materials and 10 steps to build a doodblebot.



You will need these supplies to make a doodlebot:
- a large Dixie cup
- 4 markers
- paper to draw on
- duct tape
- a AAA battery pack with exposed wires
- 2 AAA batteries
- a small motor
- red and black wire (with alligator clips or without alligator clips)
- a penny
- wire strippers
- soldering tools (optional)



Step #1 - After you've gathered your materials, tape paper to your table for the doodlebot to try on.



Step #2 - Use duct tape to secure four markers to the outside of an upside down Dixie cup.  Be sure they all at the same height and each marker can touch the ground when standing alone.



Step #3 - Get the motor wired.  You can find small motors at hobby stores or online.  My husband soldered the red and black wires to our motor, and soldered alligator clips to the ends.  If you can't solder, you can use wire strippers to expose the ends of the wires and fold them around both metal loop on the motor.  Or you can buy wires with alligator clips on both ends.  Students can clip one end of a red wire to one of the motor's loops, and clip one end of the black wire to the other motor's loop.  



Step #4 - Tape the motor to the top of the Dixie cup, making sure the spinning rod hangs well over the edge of the cup.  A weight will need to swing from this rod, so make sure there is ample room for it to swing without the top of the cup creating an obstruction.  



Step #5 - Prepare the battery source.  I recommend using a AAA battery pack instead of a AA battery pack.  I found the AA batteries to run too hot and I've seen it melt the cup - you don't want children to burn themselves!  You can find a AAA battery pack at hobby stores or online.  Make sure the ends of the wires are exposed.  If they aren't, use wire strippers to remove the tips from both the black and red wires.  Add the AAA batteries to the battery packs.  I've found that children need to be taught how to load batteries, so this step may need to be taught.  When the robot fails to draw, incorrect positioning of batteries is often a cause.


Step #6 - Tape the loaded battery pack behind the motor on the top of the Dixie cup.



Step #7 - Tape a penny to the motor's rod.  The penny will act as a weight to make the robot vibrate and dance it's way across the paper.  This is a tricky step so I included a video to show how it's done.  Make sure the secured penny can rotate around the rod without bumping into the top the cup.  If it bumps, then your motor will need to be repositioned to allow the penny to rotate without obstruction. 



Step #8 - Remove the caps from the bottom of the markers.



Step #9 - Turn on the doodlebot.  If you have wires with alligator clips, simply clip the motor wires to the exposed wires on the ends of the battery packs.  If you have wires without alligator clips, you'll need to twist the exposed wire ends of the motor to the exposed wire ends of the battery pack.  When turned on, the penny should begin to spin like a propeller.




Step #10 - Enjoy watching the doodlebot draw and scribble it's way across the page.  To turn the robot off, simply unhook the wire connections.  

When I ask my students to create a doodlebot, I give them all the materials and a picture of the end product.  Using the picture as a guide, the students need to figure out how to build the robot.  The penny can be the trickiest aspect of the doodlebot and the part I help students with the most.  I've used this activity successfully with students in grades 2nd-5th.  

I hope you found these instructions to make a doodlebot helpful.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at jill.merkle@yahoo.com.  

January 1, 2017

My One Little Word for 2017


I love the “one little word” movement.  It’s the closest thing I get to making a new year’s resolution.  Last year, my one word was POSITIVE.  I can honestly say that it shaped my 2016 year.  I’m in a different place at the end of this year than I was at the end of last year.  

For 2017, my one little word is CATALYST.  I’m in a new school within a new district, so I’m attempting to make my mark as the school’s new teacher librarian.  So far, I’ve redesigned the library and introduced the staff, students, and parents to a school-wide cardboard challenge and hour of code.  For the remainder of the school year, I’ll continue my work as a catalyst for growth with the following:
  • I want to be a catalyst for new thinking and learning with the start of the school’s makerspace.
  • I want to be a catalyst for innovative ways to integrate technology and social media in the classroom for both staff and students.
  • I want to be a catalyst for increased access to books with a little free library for the school.
  • I want to be a catalyst for increased participation in summer reading with my unique and creative ways to promote reading over the summer months.
  • I want to a catalyst for participation in growth mindset for both staff and students.
A new job brings new opportunities, new opportunities to influence change.  I’m excited for the new year ahead and ready to act as a catalyst.  

December 31, 2016

My Top 5 Blog Posts in 2016


I love the blogging community and reading daily posts from my PLN of inspirational educators, librarians, and specialists.  I entered the world of blogging in April 2015.  Since then, I've written a variety of posts about the work I do as an elementary librarian.  This year my most popular posts surrounded my work with Little Free Libraries and makerspaces, and my participation in the 10 for 10 reading community.  Here are my top 5 blog posts in 2016:

1- My #pb10for10 - Picture Books for a Makerspace

2- Tips to Start a Little Free Library

3- Tips to Manage a Little Free Library

4- My #nf10for10 - My Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books from 2015

5- Books for Your Makerspace

December 17, 2016

The Challenge Continues . . . The 2014 Buckeye Book Award


And the reading challenge continues!  As stated in a previous post, my librarian friend Ashley Lambacher of the Book Talker and I are hosting the Buckeye Book Award Reading Challenge.  Our goal is to read all the past winners from the children’s book category in chronological order from 1982 to the present.  I will read the K-2 picture book winners and Ashley will read the 4-8/3-5 chapter book winners.  Today I continue my challenge by reading the winner of the K-2 Buckeye Book Award in 2014, Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds.

Carnivores is a humorous story with a good message.  It starts by introducing three carnivore animals, the lion, great white shark, and timber wolf.  They are all experiencing an identity crisis.  Since they’re carnivores, the other animals don’t seem to like them.  Upset by the social stigma formed against them, these three form a support group.  Their first initiative is to go vegetarian, however this plan is doomed.  To fit in, they try wearing disguises but friendships formed never seem to survive.  When the wise owl attends a meeting, he convinces the animals not to feel guilty about being a meat eater.  This book teaches kids to be happy with who they are, not to worry about criticism over characteristics that can’t be changed.  The illustrations are classic Dan Santant; detailed and colorful, capturing each animals expressions perfectly.  In my library, students ask for this book a few times a week!  So, it’s no surprise it won a Buckeye Book Award in 2014. 

Ashley -  Do your students enjoy Carnivores as much as my students?  Your upcoming 2014 book is a really good one, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Would you like to join Ashley and I as we read through Ohio’s award winning books?  We welcome any and all who are interested in participating in this fun reading challenge.  For more information, click here.

December 11, 2016

Steps to Host an School-Wide Hour of Code Event


Are you an elementary school librarian interested in hosting a school-wide Hour of Code event?  Here are some suggestions to organizing a coding celebration at your own school.

What is Hour of Code?  For those who don’t know, Hour of Code is an annual coding event started by code.org, a non-profit organization with a goal to teach computer science to children all over the world, especially girls and students of color.  Hour of Code was launched in December of 2013, with 20 million students participating.  It continues to thrive today with over 300 million students participating in Hour of Code in December of 2016.  

Why should students lean to code?  Today’s students need to learn to code for future job success.  Coding is a type of literacy that students will be reading and writing for their future careers.  It will be the basis for every job in any field - like entertainment, medicine, education, agriculture and beyond.  The technology our students will create in the future will solve problems and make life easier and more enjoyable.  

How can school librarians and teachers learn more about coding?  To educate yourself as a teacher and advocate of coding, I recommend taking a code.org class.  Free courses for educators can be found on their website.  This one day class taught me coding basics and how to teach coding to my students.  


Why code.org?  This is a great place for students to learn the basics of coding and move towards more complex algorithms written in JavaScript.  Plus their activities are high-interest involving characters from Angry Birds, Star Wars, and Minecraft to name a few.  Their Code Studio teaches coding through Blockly.  Students simply drag and drop blocks in a particular order to write a program.  Hour of Code allows students to apply the basics learned in Code Studio in a variety of engaging projects.  Many start with Blockly and advance to writing JavaScript.  All levels are self-paced with tutorials and hints instructing students what to do.  Most of the time, students feel like they’re playing a video game rather than learning computer science!

Get your school involved in Global Hour of Code  The annual global Hour of Code event takes place the first full week of December.  To prepare, in October I asked my principal to support my efforts to bring this exciting event to our school.  With his consent, we chose one day during the week of global Hour of Code to host our school-wide event (we chose the Friday of that week).  I went to code.org and signed up my school to participate in the event - you’ll want to do this because the organization will send you fun promotional posters and stickers.  Also in October, we told staff the date explaining that their classrooms would engage in Hour of Code at some time during the day, but they could choose when and for how long.  There are wonderful promotional videos on code.org that I used to educated, encourage, and excite people (principal, teachers, parents, students) about the Hour of Code event.  I highly recommend checking out these videos and using them to your benefit.


During the week of Hour of Code in December, students were told at a town meeting they would participate in a coding event - they were pumped!  This same week, I taught students coding basics during library lessons.  I even held a ‘Lunch and Learn’ for teachers to learn coding while they ate lunch.  Armed with the basics, every classroom teacher in my building allowed time for students to participate in Hour of Code.  I freed up my schedule allowing teachers to sign up with me if they wanted my assistance.  Kingergarten and 1st graders did Code Studio on code.org, learning to code through Blockly.  Students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade did Hour of Code on code.org, many were coding with Blockly while advanced coders were coding with JavaScript.  No matter their age or experience, all students were engaged and loved every minute of coding!

Looking towards 2017  I plan to host Hour of Code at my school again next year in December.  My hope is that students and teachers will continue to visit Hour of Code throughout the school year.  Hour of Code has four courses for students to work and advance through.  Hour of Code isn’t the only place to learn coding, the code.org website lists suggestions for other locations to learn coding.  Apple has Swift Playground and there are a ton of apps that teach coding as well. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter where students start . . . getting them involved is what is most important.  If you’ve considered hosting an all-school coding event, I encourage you to give it a try.  It’s easier than you think, and the benefit to students are great.