RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Integrated Learning – an Education Elixir?

Integrated Learning in the Classroom

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about issues that he felt needed to be addressed in order to “fix education”, as he put it.  His background is in electronics and he knows little about the daily activities of most teachers so his perspective on teaching is somewhat limited. But even so, he did raise an interesting point when he mentioned that “teachers should spend less time compartmentalizing everything and more time tying the disciplines together, making them more real for students.”  My friend was talking about providing an integrated learning approach to education.  As he said this I began to think about my own teaching and the number of examples I provided my students to show relatedness between the content areas, which admittedly could have been higher.

Most elementary teachers have ample opportunities to show an integrated view of learning to their students.  This becomes more difficult at the highly-compartmentalized secondary education level. Not only is this because of the arrangement and sequence of courses, but also because the teachers themselves view their content areas as separate bodies of knowledge with only tangential connections to other subjects.  This may be true most of the time but I think part of the issue stems from not having a deeper understanding of integrated learning and how to implement the idea. 

What follows is a definition of integrated learning along with a few aspects that can provide a practical framework for developing an effective integrated curriculum. Hopefully, the result will be a way to demonstrate to students the importance of each subject they are asked to master.

Definition: Integrative learning is an understanding that students build across the curriculum that starts by making simple connections among ideas and experiences and extends to a point where students synthesize and transfer learning to new and complex situations.  Integrative learning happens when students take previous and new classroom learning and address real-world problems requiring multiple perspectives and multiple areas of knowledge.  Students may study solutions to problems affecting many people that may simultaneously require cultural, scientific, and artistic perspective and knowledge. 

For example, students may be asked to analyze options for the construction of a new dam on a river that is the sole source of water and food for several villagers in a hypothetical country.  On one hand the dam is essential for the financial stability of the country but poses a threat to the survival of hundreds of people and to the environment.  Solving this problem will include a discussion of ethics, which will require knowledge from multiple perspectives to raise sufficient arguments.

There are five main attributes of effective integrated learning:

1.    Connections between relevant experiences and academic knowledge - this suggests meaningful connections among experiences to deepen understanding in a field of study and to widen one’s own point of view. 

2.    Multiple connections across disciplines and perspectives - this includes drawing conclusions by blending examples, facts, and theories from multiple sources.

3.    Effective integrated learning - involves transfer, which is the adaptation and application of skills, abilities, theories, and methods from one situation into another to solve problems or explore issues in an original way.

4.    Integrated communication - the student completes assignments in a language, format, or visual aid that enhances the meaning and demonstrates complex language, expression, and thought. 

5.    Effective integrative learning - involves reflection and self-assessment.  Students demonstrate a sense of self as a learner and build on prior experiences to respond to different contexts.  This includes the opportunity for the students to define a future self in which they draw upon prior experiences gained in diverse contexts and re-evaluate personal goals and achievements.

Implementing integrated approaches to learning and teaching with all five of these attributes is a challenging task indeed.  I believe that it can all start with providing simple examples of people applying skills from different disciplines to solve a problem, such as an engineer designing a building that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing to a community, or a doctor who develops a new treatment based on certain cultural beliefs that turns out to be a cure for a widespread disease. 

Perhaps by taking such examples to heart and by embracing the integrative learning model teachers may encourage students to take stronger ownership of their learning.  Maybe this is the key to “fixing education” as my friend mentioned.  Perhaps there are many more pieces to the puzzle.  In any case, finding the answer will take many minds from many disciplines, including yours, dear reader.

Eric Welker, RAFT Education Specialist & Mentor
Do you have comments to share on integrated learning?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Using Math to Boost Your Wow Factor for the London Olympics


Since I’m an enthusiastic swimmer, and since the summer London Olympic Games are rapidly approaching, I got to wondering which woman holds the fastest Olympic record in the 100 meter freestyle stroke.

I discovered the current Olympic record in the women's 100 meter freestyle swimming event is held by Britta Steffen of Germany with a time of 53.12 seconds. The record was set at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

But really, how fast is that? To help me figure this out, all it took was knowing some simple mathematics!! It helps to keep in mind the following:
• 1 meter = .001 kilometer = 0.000621 miles = 0 miles and 1.09 yards
• 1 hour = 3600 seconds

Now we’re all set to go:
• The swimming pool is 50m long, 25m wide and 3m deep.
• It takes 1 complete lap to swim 100 meters.
• 100 meters = 0.10 kilometers = 0.062 miles.
• Speed = distance divided by time in hours; so time in hours = 53.12 seconds ÷ 3600 seconds = 0.014755 hours.

So, Steffen’s speed = 0.062 miles ÷ 0.014755 hours = 4.2 miles per hour!!! Yikes! Steffen’s speed is amazing when you realize that the average time it takes a strong swimmer to swim freestyle in a pool for one mile is around 20 minutes -- which is approximately 3 miles per hour!!! Wow!

Jeanne Lazzarini, RAFT Math Education Activity Developer

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do your bit for the environment with recycled art!

Recycle your materials into origami picture frames or
greeting cards!
“Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Repurpose.” – One can learn so much about the environment while doing creative art projects from repurposed materials and offerings from Mother Nature! Fabric swatches, newspapers, plastics and other materials can be saved from the dump yard and converted into innovative gifts like fabric swatch notepads and origami picture frames.

Celebrating the National Environment week, Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) Redwood City is conducting a ‘Great Ideas for Creating Re-purposed Gifts’ workshop this weekend. Instructors Monica Lee and Dorothy Yuki, share their passion of using recycled and repurposed materials to create art from colored paper, plaster, tile, shells, beads, wood and many others!

Monica who teaches craft workshops all over the Bay Area reflects, “On a practical level the materials we use are usually low cost or free to everyone. It opens the students’ mind to seeing everyday objects turned into art or usable item of value other than their original intent. It promotes recycling and repurposing and getting students to look ‘outside the box’ a little.”

Dorothy Yuki is a retired design and production consultant to the fashion industry in the Bay Area while Monica Lee has been a professional photographer for 30 years. Together they joined forces to communicate their passion for recycled art to everyone through workshops in places like RAFT, FabMo and SCRAP.

In the upcoming workshop at RAFT, members and educators can teach their students the importance of recycling, keeping waste out of landfills and also encourage creativity, and critical thinking. Do you want to increase environmental awareness in your student? Sign up now for the workshop!

Do you have ideas for recycling materials into works of art? Please comment below.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Inspiring critical thinking and creativity in the next generation of architects!

What do you get when you put a variety of leftover tiles in front of preschoolers?
A feast for curious minds and creative hands!

One of my five year old students designed this house. Look at the clever use of a little, round tile to make a door knob on the front door! She also used cupcake paper liners, bought from RAFT, to decorate around the house. She used a pink bottle cap and was proud that she had a very unique, pink Sun!
One Sunday morning, in my art school, the Dune School in Newark, CA, the project theme was “Tiles”. As always, instead of telling them what to paint or construct, this was an open-ended art activity with no preset instructions or rules. I do this to encourage creativity and critical thinking in my students.

I kept a tray of tiles of all colors, shapes and sizes along with bottle caps, yarn, buttons, cupcake paper holders and other RAFT materials in front of 4 and 5 year olds. I said “Today, you get to be an Architect.” Immediately, one child asked “Who is an Architect?” I replied “An architect is one who makes things like houses and buildings and today, you get to be one!”

With the “oohs” and the “aahs” of growing excitement, I left the children to build their own dream houses! Collaboration is one of the key elements in my classes as the kids feed off from each other’s creativity and come up with art work that never fails to surprise me!

I could see the creative juices flowing as these children started talking to themselves and to each other about what they could build, while picking up their choice of tiles. One child started making a bridge, while another started stacking up the tiles to make a tower. One child picked up the tiniest round tile and while staring at it with pure amazement, she said “This will be my door knob for my house” and she started building a house (Reminded me of the Kohler advertisement where the lady asks the architect to build a house around the faucet!). Looking at her build a house, the other children soon followed suit. They all wanted to build their own house(s). What followed would have made Leonardo Da Vinci so proud!

After creating their unique constructions, the kids then glued them on a vinyl floor mat bought from RAFT, so they could make a composite picture and take it home for show and tell!

RAFT has been a great inspiration for me. I feel like a treasure hunter at RAFT. You never know what you will find. The raw materials like bottle caps, pieces of foam, fabric, wood and other things help me devise projects for students of all ages. RAFT educators have also given me great ideas that I share with my art students. The art projects are open-ended, which in turn help to bring out the creativity in my students.

Free-form art can help build the 21st century skills – collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication - in children as young as 3 years old! As there are no set rules or limits to their imagination,children need to do some critical thinking to be creative! As an instructor, I let them collaborate and communicate with each other, to get richer ideas.

By Pravina Hegde Patil
Pravina runs the Dune School in Newark, CA which is a creative arts program for both children and adults. Pravina is a RAFT member since May 2011.

Do you have an innovative idea that can help build 21st century skills in young learners? Share it with us – email us or comment below.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RAFT inspires Stanford student to design hands on Activity Kit for children with special needs

When I first walked into my 'Perspectives in Assistive Technology' class at Stanford, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about assistive technology, except for what I’ve learned growing up with my younger autistic brother, and I didn’t have much experience designing in the field. However, what I did know was my goal for the class: to design a device that would allow children with autism, like my brother, to communicate.

Through the RAFT project - to design an affordable, hands-on educational activity kit for children with disabilities - I was able to pursue that goal, while simultaneously gaining experience as a designer. At the end of the eight weeks, I came up with the ‘Spin a story’ Activity Kit, using RAFT materials, that provides several simple ways for students to express themselves. A mixture of three activities – sequencing, storyboarding and sorting – the kit encourages students to initiate their own thoughts with a variety of textual and visual prompts. The materials used in the activity include magnetic sheets, stickers, plastic bottle caps, and blank flashcards – things that are commonly found and easily upcycled.

Looking back now, I don’t think I could have chosen to work on a better project that suited my goals and skills! For one, the experience of going through the design thinking process – from brainstorming and need finding to prototyping and ideation – was simply an incredible learning experience. I had never worked on a design project by myself prior to this one (all of my past projects were team projects), so it was definitely a new experience trying to keep myself consistently on-track and be creative at the same time.
It was also wonderful to work closely with RAFT, and to learn more about the organization. During the eight weeks of the course, I was able to meet many incredible RAFT individuals and teachers dedicated to finding new ways for their students to learn. I learned that there are many ways to keep hands on educational activities simple, fun, affordable and easily available to one and all, if you just think creatively. 

On the whole, it is a gratifying feeling to realize the positive social impact this project will have in the area of education.

By Krystal Le.
 Krystal Le is a Sophomore at Stanford University studying Mechanical Engineering. She recently worked with RAFT to design an affordable and accessible hands-on Activity Kit for children with special needs.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Science fairs: Nurturing the 21st century thinker

3D Tessellation model
A bespectacled 6th grader enthusiastically explains ‘efficiency of 3D space tessellations’ with myriad equations and handmade tessellation patterns to address the needs of the packaging, storing, shipping and construction industry.

Another middle school student, was inspired by his little brother’s telescope and built a simple vacuum chamber using a PVC pipe with a microphone and a speaker on both ends to find out how sound travels on Mars! This 8th grader from Granada Islamic School used an oscilloscope his mother found at an auction to measure the sounds. “I poke around and find junk to build my projects. It’s fun.”

Science projects today have become fun for many students as they use more hands on activities to experiment and understand concepts. These two middle school students were among 996 participants at the recent Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship, where RAFT was one of the special judges.

Moenes Iskarous, President, SCVSEFA (Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association) feels, “The most interesting and enjoyable thing we see in the science fair is that the students are energized, motivated by the judges – the subject experts who talk to them and give them ideas …it gives them a big push in excelling in the future years.”

A science fair project is one of the best hands on learning experiences a student can undertake. From selecting a scientific question, doing library and Internet research work to formulate the hypothesis, and conducting the experiment, to writing a report on his/ her learning, the process introduces students to more than just science concepts. A student also learns how to collaborate with teammates, communicate his/her research findings, be creative and inventive, and also gains the most important skill – critical thinking.

These are the 4C’s that are the backbone for 21st century learning and innovation skills and RAFT has been instrumental in creating these 21st century thinkers  by empowering educators with hands on products and professional development services.

RAFT Activity Kit
Lindon Richards, a science teacher at Milpitas Christian School whose students have been participating in the Synposys Science Fair for over 10 years says, “RAFT has been an invaluable resource in helping me prepare students for this and other competitions. I have personally gleaned new ideas as to how to illustrate science concepts, just by conversing with the RAFT education team. The actual models that they have created also serve to demonstrate new ways to use the varied materials carried by the store.”

Two of Lindon’s students have won prizes at this year’s Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship.

Has RAFT helped you in helping your students prepare for science fairs and competitions? Share your experiences with us – email or comment below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hands on solutions for children with special needs

In today’s highly competitive world the top priority of every school district is to make education accessible to everyone, irrespective of their financial or cultural background.  For the recently hired Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, Xavier De La Torre, one of the main jobs is ‘to provide leadership for improving education, especially for poor and Latino children…’ Hands-on education has long been recognized as a superior medium for improving education as it engages students in learning.

Homeschoolers, students in classrooms and after school programs, as well as children with special needs benefit from hands on education. Says Gayle Mayekawa, a RAFT member & an early education specialist, “According to the brain research and studies, hands on activities are appealing and effective learning tools.”

Gayle is one of the instructors at the upcoming Early Education Special Needs Strategies workshop held at RAFT Redwood City. The focus of the workshop is to help educators create a successful learning environment for children with special needs in an inclusive preschool classroom.

This child development instructor at Foothill College, along with Lisa Shaanan, a pediatric occupational therapist will address environmental stimulations and different sensory needs of kids with special needs.  Says Gayle, “We will be working on three make and take activities. Each activity focuses on different needs, like the decorated cardboard tube that would help children, who need visual direction, to focus on the face and voice of the teacher when the environment over stimulates them.”

Adds Lisa, “All of the strategies we discuss at the workshop will be effective for all children, but they will have a bigger impact on students with special needs.” The workshop is divided into three sections that will address the overall learning environment, specific activities and skill development. The structured program also challenges attendees with problems to solve in real time with the help of RAFT materials.

 Lisa feels RAFT is a great asset to special educators, “I am able to create unique activities using RAFT materials that basically allow us to individualize each activity to the student needs. When it comes to students with special needs, if you are selecting an Activity Kit you need to think of the challenges faced by an individual child and address that.”

Join us in discovering strategies for designing a learning environment that motivates a child to participate. Click here to sign up for this workshop today!

Do you have activity ideas that address the requirements of children with special needs? Share it with us by sending us an email or comment below.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jewish religious artifacts get an inventive, artistic twist with RAFT materials

Deborah Jacobstein proudly displays her
students' art works made with RAFT
materials!
Deborah Jacobstein, one of RAFT’s longstanding members, has found beautiful, artistic and highly innovative ways to repurpose RAFT materials like cork and matt boards, double sided sticky papers, die cuts, pill bottles, bottle top lids and many more into Judaica – artifacts connected to decorative Jewish ritual objects.

Cork boards give life to sandy floors in a miniature sukkah (a temporary hut created during the festival of Sukkot) while bottle top lids become the feet for many things. Ordinary white pill bottles transform into colorful, scented Havdallah spice bottles--these spice bottles are used at the end of the Sabbath to remind Jews of its sweetness. The list goes on!

RAFT inspired Tzedakah boxes
This art educator teaches students from preschool to eighth grade at Temple Emanu-El’s Religious School art program. Temple Emanu-El, one of the oldest Reform Jewish congregations on the West Coast, recently showcased the Religious School students’ artwork in celebration of its 150th anniversary.

With 219 art projects on display, these original Judaica artifacts born from a confluence between repurposed art and religion, ranged from the Kiddush cups (a wine goblet used during the Kiddush ceremony) to Tzedakah boxes (Tzedakah means charity in Hebrew and Tzedakah boxes are similar to piggy banks where one collects money for charity).

One of the Tzedakah boxes project made by her 4th graders was inspired by a RAFT find Deborah unearthed in one of the bins years back. She recalls, “I was pulling something from the bins to collect a bag of stuff for a dollar when I came across a paper house Christmas ornament. It cost nothing, maybe pennies so I threw it in with the other things and got the concept of making these Tzedakah box houses from that RAFT ornament! Though it cost pennies, it’s priceless and I still have it with me.”
Collage made from double sided sticky paper and RAFT die-cuts

But Deborah doesn’t believe in hoarding materials, instead she buys only when need arises unless “it’s really cool on speculation…I use things for a very long time! Someone at RAFT let me purchase some double sided sticky paper they had in reserve about 7-8 years back and I have been using it since then, little by little. It was an awesome find.” Many of her younger students’ art projects are based on double sided sticky paper.

Other students’ art projects like the Torah Zentangles (the Torah is the Jewish sacred book) were inspired by RAFT workshops. Says the resourceful artist, “I have taken three Zentangles classes as well as a workshop where I learnt the shaving cream marbled paper technique that I taught my first graders with which they made a paper Torah mantle covering.”

Torah Zentangle
Her students are very enthusiastic about the art classes as it doesn’t just teach art, but also stimulates their critical thinking and creativity. “Though I guide them on the basic concept as each project should be religious based, I am constantly surprised by what they produce. And some of the non-traditional art forms I have shared with my students have brought forth some great reactions. When I first taught Zentangles to seventh graders, there was pin drop silence throughout the duration of the class, they were so involved in it!”

Be it through workshops, Idea Sheets or even commonly found, inexpensive materials, RAFT has always been an inspiration to many RAFT members like Deborah who have in turn encouraged students to think creatively and critically. Do you have an inspiring story you would like to share with us? Email us or comment below.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Weave storytelling and hands on activities to interest your students in science concepts

using the RAFT shake table capture your student's
imagination and interest in plate tectonics
and earthquakes!


‘Nothing was going right for Alice today. Her socks didn’t match in the morning, she left her homework at home and was admonished by her 6th grade teacher…and now Alice ended up leaving her glasses at school! How could she see? Her mom has left her a note on the refrigerator, but Alice couldn’t read without her glasses.

Alice tries to call her mom on the cell phone to take her back to school but her mom wasn’t picking up her phone! Then her friend Felicia walks in asking Alice to explain some class notes. Alice was a whiz at explaining and wanted to help her friend but she didn’t have her glasses. Alice then had an idea…she put a plain plastic sheet on the notes and put some drops of water on the sheet and magically the words were legible!’


With this story you can strike a chord with your students and explain the concept of magnification - as light goes through a drop of water, it bends and magnifies the words underneath – the water here plays the role of a magnifying glass.

Laurie Pines, a professional story teller and educator has found that incorporating stories into the curriculum at any level to introduce and augment the lesson, acts as a surprisingly potent magnet to stir the students' desire to learn. The learning becomes more effective if story telling is combined with hands-on activities!

Says Laurie, “I look at the RAFT Materials, Idea Sheets and Activity Kits and think what kind of story can I make around it? We can make up stories like Alice’s story here or we can even use real stories like Archimedes’ story to teach Archimedes principle and supplement it with an hands-on activity!”

This RAFT Member is one of the three instructors who will be showcasing various hands on science activities for 4th graders and above, at the ‘Science Mini-series: Taking Science Outside the Box’ workshop on March 17th at RAFT San Jose. Come and find out how you can weave stories around a science activity/experiment to interest your students in biology, chemistry, earth science and physics.

Eric Welker and Tom Gates from the RAFT education team will also walk you through various tips and innovative techniques for science curriculum teaching. The hands on science workshop gives you access to many RAFT Science Activity Kits, Idea Sheets and materials.

Come and learn about Fingerphones, Benham’s Disc, Mini Ice Mountains, Shake Tables, Who is the daddy, and other RAFT hands on science activities - register for the day long Science Mini-series workshop today! To register click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It’s time for the lazy, long days of summer… Create your own sundial with RAFT’s hands on activities.

“Time and Tide waits for no man.” This famous saying comes to mind when it’s time again to set our clocks forward on March 11th 2012, and lose one hour of sleep!

Why is there Daylight Savings Time (DST)?  Basically it is because many people want to gain additional daylight during the early summer evenings.  So, clocks are advanced forward by one hour in the spring, and in the fall, are again set back one hour (the phrases “spring forward” and “fall back” help you remember this).

As we get ready to work on the hour hand on our clocks, Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) takes a look at many, fun hands on educational activities based on RAFT Idea Sheets that you can use to innovatively teach your students the concept of time.

With the RAFT ‘Time for Shadows’ Idea Sheet activity you can quickly assemble an equatorial sundial that you can easily adjust for daylight savings time. With just drinking straws, protractor, compass and a CD, your third and fourth graders can create a sundial and, learn about sun positions and shadows!

Or you can use a view binder cover, a watch, a paperclip, straws, compass and other easily accessible resources to create the RAFT ‘View Binder Sundial’ that our forefathers used to track the sun’s movement to tell time before clocks came into existence!

Young learners can also create a hands on sand timer (based on the concept of an hourglass) and learn how to measure time. This RAFT Activity, ‘Sand Timer Primer’ also enhances their investigation and experimentation skills. For more ideas please click here.

DST has been used throughout much of the U.S., Canada, and Europe since World War 1. Today, about 70 countries around the world observe DST in some form, including most of the United States, but U.S. Federal law does not require its observance.  For instance, Arizona, Hawaii, and the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa do not use DST since these areas receive so much sun throughout the year that it is not helpful to gain another hour of sunlight in the summer. 

Since 2007, DST begins on the 2nd Sunday of March, and ends on the 1st Sunday of November. Ah! Here’s to those lazy, long days of summer! 

Do you have great hands on activity ideas for measuring time? Please share it with us by sending us an email or giving your comments below!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RAFT SAN JOSE CELEBRATES PI (π) DAY – 3.14, WITH A BOATLOAD OF FREE ACTIVITIES!

Come meet RAFT’s Math Activity Developer, Jeanne Lazzarini, at RAFT San Jose who has a treasure chest of Pi-Day activities to share!  Not only will she be dressed as a Pirate (because Pi rates!), she’ll also offer you delicious pie to eat while showing you great Pi-Day Math activities to make and take, to use in your classroom to celebrate Pi day! The Pi-Day activities include RAFT Math Idea Sheet activities like Finding Pi, Wearable Pi and Pi Day Pin.

Irrational number Pi, also written as π, is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and is celebrated all over the world on March 14th because π is a number that begins as 3.14!  With the use of computers, Pi has been calculated trillions of digits past the decimal point! Pi is an irrational and transcendental number, and its digits continue infinitely without any repeating patterns of digits!  Pi has been used in many applications for over 4000 years!

π rate activity days at RAFT!
Join us at RAFT, San Jose in celebrating (π) day on these π rate focused days…and all the events are free!
Thursday, March 1st (from 4:30pm to 6pm) – Classroom A
Thursday, March 8th (from 4:30pm to 6pm) – Green Room
Saturday, March 10th (from 1:30 to 3:30) – Clasroom A

Make Math a fun and interesting subject for your students with our bounty of hands on activities that align with the state standards. Download more than 240 Math Idea Sheets here. Do you have a π rate activity idea you would like to share with us? Click here to send us an email or add your comments below! Go to www.raft.net for more information.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Shortino Family Foundation helps RAFT & YSI reach professional development on hands-on teaching techniques to educators in the ARUSD


Ocala Cluster teachers having fun
with the RAFT Activity Kits
Resource Area For Teaching recently held a professional development workshop on hands-on teaching techniques for elementary and middle school educators across the Ocala Cluster in the Alum Rock Unified School District (ARUSD). The workshop is part of the ongoing science program conducted by RAFT in collaboration with the Youth Science Institute (YSI) and ARUSD.

RAFT and YSI have partnered together to support the teachers from the District’s Ocala Cluster of Caselle, Ryan and Rogers Elementary Schools and Ocala Middle School, with the tools and techniques required to spark imaginations and fuel minds. “It's great to be part of this partnership that's bringing RAFT Activity Kits and YSI programs into Ocala Cluster classrooms with lessons that complement each other,” says Ken Sakoi, Education Director at YSI.
The RAFT Breadboard circuit

These professional development tools and hands on techniques which include a package of classroom materials for each educator, teacher training and, student programs linking RAFT training and materials with YSI student programs, have been made possible by the generous contribution from the Shortino Family Foundation.

At one of the recent teacher training workshops held at RAFT, the RAFT Education team demonstrated various RAFT Activity Kits including Owl Pellets, Evolution by Natural Selection (for 7th grade), Mini Magnet Wands, Floating Compass, Breadboard Circuits (for 4th grade) and Breaking it Down, Still Water (for 6th grade) at the workshop. These Activity Kits are mostly based on repurposed materials that are very affordable and easily accessible like aluminum foil, plastic pipette tips, coffee stirrer straws, pony beads, clothespins, and even plastic forks and spoons!

Jennifer Greenbaum, a school teacher from Ryan Elementary who participated in the workshop was very enthusiastic about her first experience at RAFT. “I had heard about RAFT before but didn’t really understand what it was all about. When I entered and I saw M.C. Escher design tiles, I thought this was a creative, whimsical kind of place…a fun place where creative people worked! I was really engaged in the workshop…gave us a feel of how the kids would experience learning through these hands on materials. Loved all the activities especially dissecting owl pellets…it was fun!”

Educators like Jennifer will be doing these RAFT hands-on activities with their students in the classrooms before and after taking part in the YSI programs. The RAFT Activity Kits will help teachers reinforce educational concepts in their students.

Do you want to have some fun getting creative with education? Do you want to inspire and engage your students with hands on methods of teaching? Join RAFT and start your hands on learning today!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Generous donor supports RAFT’s mission – to inspire the joy and discovery of learning through hands-on activities

Flextronics Foundation recently donated $10,000 dollars in support of the core component of RAFT’s Education program – creatively repurposing materials donated by local businesses into pre-packaged Activity Kits that facilitate hands-on learning of Math and Science.

Add caption
RAFT’s mission is to transform teaching by creating engaging hands-on educational activities that inspire the joy and discovery of learning. RAFT works with more than 10,000 educators in the classroom, home-school settings and, after-school and community based programs. RAFT's products (Idea Sheets and Activity Kits), professional development services including mentoring and educational workshops, and low-cost teaching supplies enrich and improve the education of over 825,000 young people each year.

RAFT Activity Kits are based on over 650 curriculum-aligned RAFT Idea Sheets that cover a range of grade levels and subjects. The Flextronics Foundation has awarded a total of $25,000 in grants to RAFT since 2008.

Mary Simon, Executive Director, RAFT spoke on this occasion, “We are grateful to Flextronics support of hands on education and RAFT.”

“Education is one of our primary funding initiatives because it has such a significant, residual impact on our communities, both locally and worldwide. We fully support the work RAFT does toward Science and Math education, and we are proud to support such an important cause,” says Thomas Ezrin, Senior Vice President, human resources at Flextronics.

The Flextronics Foundation supports a range of community development efforts including initiatives that improve education.  The Foundation was established in 2002 and serves as a catalyst for positive change in communities around the world.  Click here for more information on Flextronics Foundation.

Photo: L-R - Natalie Lavorato, Development Associate at RAFT; Greg Brown, Director of Education at RAFT; Mary Simon, Executive Director & Founder at RAFT; Thomas Ezrin, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at Flextronics; Dennis Isaac, Director, Human Resources at Flextronics; Lori Kenepp, Marketing Communications Manager at Flextronics

Thursday, February 16, 2012

RAFT member’s innovative repurposing creates a fun filled take home activity

Here is a creative idea from Arlene Brown, a science teacher at St. Mary's School in Los Gatos:

"Each year I teach my first-graders about weather, and this year I decided to have them build their own rain gauges. I came to RAFT in search of rain gauges, and what I found were giant syringes (with no needles) that turned out to be perfect for this project!  At 17 cents apiece, I was able to have all 36 students create rain gauges for less than 7 dollars.

In class, the students took one look at my sample and knew exactly what to do.  They were very excited about this project! They put a pointed stick in the small end of the syringe to plug the hole and keep the gauge vertical. Now all we needed was rain... thankfully, Mother Nature cooperated by providing a rare rainstorm at just the right time! That night, parents had a great time helping their children set up their rain gauges.  The students could not wait to go out in the morning to see how much water they collected! They eagerly compared their rain readings when they came to school. 

There were many opportunities for learning in this project - the students learned about weather, about measurement, and about how to creatively use everyday objects for a different purposes. The first-graders were curious why rain is measured in "inches" and not by volume.  They learned that we want to know how much rain falls over a large area, and that's why we use inches. If this same project were done with older students, they could determine how many marks on the side of the syringe equal one inch - a practical application of fractions!"

Thanks for sharing your great story, Arlene. You demonstrated what happens so often at RAFT - educators come in with specific needs, and leave with creative, low-cost solutions that make learning fun and memorable.

RAFT invites all teachers to share their stories with us!  Add your comments below:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Go green this Valentine's Day!

Great hands-on teaching activities for Valentine's Day!
Do your students want to give something special to their parents on this Valentine’s Day? Send home a sweet surprise with RAFT’s ‘Bouquet of Flowers’, a hands-on activity where your students can design and make their own flower bouquets with just cardstock, flower images and scissors! These flowers are sure to last forever!

Or you can help your pupils create unique DIY valentine hearts with RAFT’s ‘Foil Art’. With just foil and adhesive cardstock their foil art creation can melt their parents’ heart!

Valentine’s Day can also be a great day to teach Science by focusing on flowers, one of the most gifted V Day present! With The RAFT’s ‘Preserving the Petals’ hands-on activity , elementary and middle school students can learn about plant structures and functions. This activity creatively repurposes materials like pipette holders and paper towels! With RAFT Idea Sheets and materials, you can go green this Valentine's Day!

For many more great ideas go to http://www.raft.net/. Have you tried these great RAFT Activities in your classroom? Do you have great hands-on activity ideas for Valentine’s Day? Share your experiences and ideas with us by commenting below!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Plastic to art that’s fantastic!

With Valentine’s Day round the corner, one of RAFT’s upcoming weekend workshops – ‘Shrink Art Fun’ shows you how to recycle plastic into awesome shrink art! This year learn how to make some meaningful gifts using donated plastic material, available at RAFT in the form of trays and take-out containers, thus preventing them from ending up in a landfill. 

Shrink plastics encourage creativity, and can be used to supplement a variety of classroom activities.  Students can create models, manipulatives, and displays. They can make maps, pins, book report characters, and even cards! 

But there is also a science behind this hands on art form! Says Instructor Georgina Patterson, who has been in the education field for 40 years, “The science behind the shrinkage process is a chemistry lesson in itself, and the excitement young children get when they watch the plastic change size in the oven is worth the effort!”

The base material consists of thin, flexible polystyrene plastic (#6) sheets.  Prior to heating, the plastic sheets can be colored with felt-tip pens, acrylic paint, colored pencils and cut into shapes.  When heated in an oven or with a heat gun, the plastic shrinks by about two-thirds and becomes thicker and more rigid while retaining the colored design.


The commercial version of this creative art (Shrinky Dinks) was invented in 1973 by two Wisconsin housewives as a Cub Scout project, and it has continued to be popular with one and all ever since. Recently, Professor Michelle Khine of UC Irvine used Shrinky Dinks to create tiny structures in the area of medical research!

Want to create Shrink Art magic?

Do you want to dabble in this ‘magical’ hands on activity that changes plastic to art? Are you a science educator interested in combining Chemistry and Art for a fun filled educative classroom session?  Do you want to experiment and ‘play’ with your peers in a workshop-setting? Sign up today for the ‘Shrink Art Fun’ workshop. Click here for more information.

Experienced in Shrink Art? Share your ideas and inputs with fellow educators here. Click on ‘comment’ below to share your thoughts!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Have your own classroom science fair today with RAFT hands on Activity Kits!

Can’t make it to the White House Science Fair today? Here are some great hands on ideas for your own local Science Fair!

Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) has over 600 Idea Sheets with more than 400 focused on Sciences – Life Science, Earth/Space Science and Physical Science. These idea sheets can lead to a myriad of possibilities! Here are a few RAFT hands on Science activity ideas that you can even conduct as a classroom science project!

Colors of Light
A Student enjoying the color patterns
in the easily built spectroscope.
Make your own with the
RAFT Colors of Light Activity Kit!
  • White light is actually a combination of different colors. This easily built spectroscope allows students to separate the incoming light into its component colors, forming a light spectrum (rainbow). Besides creating interesting color patterns it can be used to identify different sources of light.
  • Grade Range: K - 12
  • Download Idea Sheet
  • Buy Activity Kit
Hovercraft
Floating Garden of Magnets (physics)
Gravity Defying Frog (physics/art)
The RAFT Gravity Defying Frog Activity Kit
  • Students will investigate cause and effect, center of mass, balance, and stable equilibrium while they create this fascinating, scientific toy!
  • Grade Range: K - 8 
  • Download Idea Sheet
  • Buy Activity Kit


You can also find STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related hands on RAFT Idea Sheets and Activity Kits that conform to curriculum standards at www.raft.net.

Have you tried out any of these kits? Give us your feedback! Do you have more innovative hands on ideas to teach science or STEM subjects? Share it with us!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Experience the union between Math & Art in a RAFT workshop!


While Geometry often describes and measures shapes like a cone, sphere or triangle, does it define the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree?

Starfish and Broccoli
are a few examples of fractal patterns in nature!
It does! Most patterns in nature, called “fractals” describe curves, surfaces and objects that have some very peculiar properties so irregular and fragmented, that it takes more than spheres, cones, circles, triangles, smooth or straight lines to describe them!

These fractals might resemble arteries, coral, a heart, a brain, tree branches and other such ‘designs’ that have symmetry, ‘self-similarity’ and are scale-free!
Fern fractals - with symmetry
and self -similarity!

 Look around you – Fractals are everywhere!  Have fun with us and discover everyday Fractals at the upcoming RAFT workshop ‘Fractals and Beyond’ on Feb 9th, at RAFT San Jose. This workshop will demonstrate how fractals can be related to Sierpinski's gasket, to patterns, to equations, to graphing, and to even a broccoli! 

Break off a branch of the whole broccoli and what do you see?  The smaller branch looks just like a miniature copy of the whole broccoli!  Now think of self-similarity in ferns, the formation of shells, mountains, lightening, river estuaries, fault patterns, galaxies, musical compositions, and other nature’s designs. 

A fractal’s dimension indicates its degree of detail, or crinkliness.  Simple curves, such as lines, have one dimension.  Squares, rectangles, circles, polygons and others have two dimensions, while solid objects such as cubes, spheres, and other polyhedra have three dimensions. 

All those dimensions are integers: 1, 2, 3… But a fractal could have a non-integer dimension of 1.4332.   By understanding fractal dimension, mathematicians can now measure shapes such as coastlines that once were thought to be immeasurable.

If you want to explore the world of Fractals, a science that marries Art with Math, join us for the upcoming workshop this week.
Discover your own fractal designs with RAFT’s Hands on Activity Kit ‘Freaky Fractals’!
Share your experiences with everyday Fractal patterns in nature here! Add your comments below.

Jeanne Lazzarini, RAFT Math Education Activity Developer

Friday, February 3, 2012

Brighten your students’ learning with RAFT’s electrical workshop!

Want to teach your students about basic electric circuits using hands on methods? Then the “Battery Science -  Light and Power Up the Learning!” RAFT workshop is just the thing for you! The hands on workshop at San Jose RAFT is held tomorrow (February 4th) from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

The workshop incorporates newly developed and simplified electrical activities including the redesigned breadboard circuit Activity Kit! Kids will love to tap into these activities to make things light up, move, and buzz and the learning will build as they make the ‘connections’!

The workshop supply bag will include sets of motors, buzzers, bulbs, batteries, wire, and more RAFT Materials so that you can duplicate the activities with your students. The materials can enhance 4th grade lessons on electricity, or be used for enrichment, after school, or summer programs.

The workshop is conducted by Michael Pollock who has taught hands on science to elementary students for 25 years. He currently works at RAFT helping to produce educational kits.

There is an Early Bird Special of $5 off EVERY Spring Workshop, if registered by February 4th. If you have any questions about our workshop program, please contact Deborah at workshops@raft.net or (408)451-1473.

Come and learn about electrical circuits using hands on learning methods. Click here to register!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

RAFT invites Kids Kit Testers for fun learning using RAFT hands on Activity Kits


One of the most important steps in our hands on Activity Kit development process is user testing. We want to test RAFT Activity Kits to ensure we are delivering the best quality product, with easy to understand instructions, and exceptional educational content. We recently invited RAFT members to bring their children, the end users of RAFT products, to be our RAFT Kids Kit Testers for the night.

The children were very excited to see the place “where mom gets all her good junk”. We tested Foil Art, Kumihimo, and a brand new Retractor Car. In reaction to completing the retractor car made out of common materials, one child exclaimed, “It REALLY worked!” I received valuable feedback and will take it back to the product development team. It is amazing what you can learn when you see the product with its end user.

RAFT prides itself in creating hands on Activity Kits that are made out of common materials so one can actually build these kits on their own! RAFT provides, Idea Sheets, materials and manipulatives that can be used to create these activities.

You can also use pre-assembled RAFT Activity Kits and save the time to track down all these materials! Be on the lookout for our new and revised Activity Kits. Meanwhile, please check out the Activity Kits we have available in store and online.

Bay Area residents interested in having your children be part of RAFT Kids Kit Testers, please email me at selina[at]raft.net. 

- Selina Cardoza, Product and Program Manager at RAFT

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Explore the phases of the moon with RAFT hands on Activities!

I am an elementary school teacher at Orchard School.  Before the winter holidays I spent three days teaching my class about moon activities that I had learned at a RAFT workshop last summer entitled 'Crafty Moon Activities'.

 The lessons I used to introduce the moon to my second and third graders were:  Modeling the Moon’s Rotation, Moon: Nearside-Far side, and Nine and a Half to the Moon.  In these lessons, based on RAFT Idea Sheets, the children learned using movement and hands on materials where and how the moon moves, what it looks like on both sides of the moon, and physically how far the moon is from the earth.  

We then talked about the fact that the moon doesn’t change shape, but that the reflection of the sunlight on the moon creates the images that we see at night. To illustrate this point, I used the RAFT Idea Sheet Holding the Moon in Your Hand.  Using a light source and simple RAFT materials like Styrofoam balls with coffee stir sticks to hold them up, we actually demonstrated this concept!

Lastly we acted out the different phases of the moon with pictures pasted on plastic cup filters and then each table made their own moon mobiles with materials from RAFT. All of these lessons I shared with my students were taught at the Crafty Moon Activity Workshop last year where we were also given most of the supplies for these activities! 

My students loved the crafty moon activities as they were fun, exciting and educational.  As they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating! I really think that these were a great set of activities as I heard many comments from my students like – “It felt awesome learning about the moon.  The most interesting part of the moon was its one whole moon, but it just changes!”  “The coolest thing was when we turned off the lights and held the soccer ball on the straw.  It was way cool!”   “I believe that the most fun and exciting thing about the moon is its history.  The many craters and holes on the moon’s surface are really interesting!”

If you have students wanting to explore the moon like mine, you should check out the Next Crafty Moons Workshop that will be coming up soon!

Kathleen Gould, Elementary School Teacher, Orchard School, San Jose. Kathleen is also a RAFT Member and a RAFT Fellow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Educators honored for exceptional inquiry based teaching projects

Resource Area For teaching (RAFT) recently honored two Bay Area educators with the Hands On Recognition Awards for their emphasis on hands on teaching methods. Ann Shioji, a high school teacher and Anna Pollack, an elementary school teacher were selected in recognition of their exceptional collaborative and inquiry-based teaching projects and activities in the classroom.

Shioji’s award winning concept explores how sound travels through different media using a simple watch and various materials like air, water and sand. Says Shioji, “Students place a watch on the table and put bags, each filled with a different material, on top of it. They then listen for any difference in the sound and describe what they hear. It reinforces the concept that sound waves need a medium to travel through.”

Shioji, who teaches Integrated Science at the Yerba Buena High School, was introduced to RAFT by another teacher when she came to the Bay Area. “I taught in Los Angeles for three years. We didn’t have anything like RAFT there. Now people say my classroom is like RAFT because I buy a lot of manipulatives there! Thanks to RAFT our school has won a science fair award twice since we have participated. RAFT is affordable and makes science accessible to everyone!”

Anna Pollack, also a RAFT enthusiast, was a practicing pediatrician before choosing to become an elementary school teacher. Her students adore the science background she brings to the classroom. They get to work with microscopes, do real lab work, and test products all in 4th grade! “Children like learning about how living things work. I like working with young kids because of their curiosity and open mind!”

Pollack’s award winning idea nurtured the investigative and scientific observation skills in her students. In this activity, her students at Franklin Elementary School in Burlingame, learnt basic chemistry by differentiating four powders (sugar, salt, cornstarch, and baking soda) using simple RAFT materials like test tubes, droppers, toothpicks and, liquids like water, vinegar and tincture of iodine to arrive at qualitative results.

As Hands-On Recognition Award winners, Ann Shioji and Anna Pollack will receive two years of free RAFT membership and $100 worth of RAFT Gift Cards. The RAFT Hands On Recognition awards were introduced in 2010. RAFT members are invited every quarter to submit a learning project or activity. For more information about the Hands-On award program, go to http://www.raft.net/hands-on-award.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RAFT members learn about Chinese culture the hands-on way!


RAFT celebrated the Chinese New Year last weekend with over 250 members participating in this fun event. Lucia Quaife, long time RAFT Member has been the backbone of this event, bringing it to life for the past six years.
Link
The Year of the Dragon festivities started with master calligrapher Richard Zhao who created beautiful dragon zodiac symbols and other good luck signs traditional in Chinese culture.

Keeping with the theme, another RAFT member, Tsen-wu Pang created a magnificent Dragon costume that is still on display in the RAFT San Jose Member Center. She also demonstrated how to make dragon masks using foam, fabric, corrugated paper and many other RAFT materials.

Quaife, an educator at the Creative Learning Foundation, a non-profit providing practical Mandarin teaching to non-Chinese-heritage children in the Bay Area, along with her staff, taught members how to make their own healthy and delicious spring rolls. This light refreshment can easily be duplicated in a classroom without the worry of cooking in class!

A RAFT enthusiast, Quaife also demonstrated various innovative, simple, hands-on paper crafts including an almost real version of the firecracker using red paper, lanterns and dragons using corks, tubes, cylindrical foam, gold foil, chenille stems, pony beads and cupcake paper holders.

The day culminated with the amazing sounds of the Chinese zither (Guzheng) played by 3 local high schools students. At this event, RAFT members got to dabble in calligraphy, paper crafts, cooking spring rolls, eating Chinese fare and they even got to take home some of the hands-on activities they worked on!

There will be an encore event at RAFT Redwood City this Saturday, January 21st. For more information go to http://www.raft.net/news/newsletter/

Shirley Young
RAFT Member Services Manager

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr. Day –United Way volunteers honor this day of service at RAFT


On a day when schools were closed to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., nearly 100 adult and youth volunteers joined United Way Silicon Valley and Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) to make the holiday a “day on” instead of a “day off” by working to improve local education and lending their support to local educators.

As part of this nationally recognized King Day of Service, local volunteers assembled hands-on RAFT Activity Kits including ‘Water Beads’, ‘Place your number value’! and ‘Catch a falling ring’ and other materials that teachers can use in the classroom to create valuable learning opportunities.

“We are partnering with RAFT today because education is a fundamental building block to a successful life,” said Carole Leigh Hutton, president and CEO of United Way Silicon Valley. “Helping teachers enrich the classroom experience supports United Way’s goals of growing
self-sufficient and financially stable families and reducing the ethnic-racial achievement gap in our schools.”

On this Day of Service, RAFT also honored two Bay Area educators with the Hands-On Recognition Awards. Ann Shioji a high school integrated Science teacher and Anna Pollock, a physician who changed careers to become an elementary teacher, were recognized for their creative and outstanding work using hands-on activities to engage their students. As Hands-On Recognition Award winners, each will receive two years of free RAFT membership and $100 worth of RAFT Gift Cards.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

RAFT ranked #1 on two TOP TEN lists on Charity Navigator!

RAFT started the New Year with a high note earning a large number of new reviews and the most page views on Charity Navigator, America's largest independent charity evaluator.

RAFT currently enjoys the numero uno position in the Top 10 Non-University Education Charities list with the highest number of page views. RAFT received 1461 hits, around 400 more than DonorsChoose and Scholarship America, who got 1059 and 1030 hits respectively.

Charity Navigator in partnership with GreatNonprofits ran an Education Write a Review Campaign to encourage people to share their stories about Education charities. In this recent poll, RAFT took top spot with a total of 37 new reviews.

The other non-profit educational organizations in this top 10 included Lee Pesky Learning Center, Citizen Schools, Little Kids Rock and DonorsChoose. These 10 highly-rated charities received the most number of new reviews in September 2011. You can also add your review on Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator provides free financial evaluations of America's charities. The organization is the individual donor's first source for unbiased news and information on philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, wise giving, donating money and charitable donations. Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities.