Written by Stephanie Greer, Lower School DREAM Lab ® Coordinator and Computer Science Department Chair, in collaboration with Andre Teixeira, Lower School Art Teacher and Department Chair of Visual Arts, Kindergarten Teachers Monica Henkel and Carol Beaverson, and Janice Tan, Lower School Science and DREAM Lab ® Teacher.
How the Interactive Dinosaur Board Came to Be: A (Super Cool) Cross Curricular, multi-grade, Lower School Collaboration
Hold your hand on the tin-foil covered top rail of the Interactive Dinoboard. Now, touch the metal brad next to any one of the dinosaurs that cover the Jurassic-themed landscape, and the voice of a kindergarten student comes over a speaker reciting the name of the dinosaur you’ve selected and providing you with a fact or two about the dinosaur.
The Interactive Dinoboard is the culmination of an on-going collaboration between ECC Sciene Teacher Janice Tan, Department Chair of Visual Arts and Lower School Art Andre Teixeira, Kindergarten Teachers Carol Beaverson and Monica Henkel and myself, Computer Science Department Chair and Lower School DREAM Lab® Coordinator. We started discussions for the board in January and finished just in time to display it at the School Maker Faire in April.
To create the board we implemented a divide and conquer approach:
Mrs. Beaverson and Mrs. Henkel assigned each kindergarten student a dinosaur. Working together with their teachers and their parents, each student became the expert of their dinosaur, reading about it and writing a prepared set of facts to share with the Baldwin community.
Meanwhile, during Art and DREAM Lab classes, the students created the artwork for the board. Mr. Teixeira prepared a unique dinosaur template for each student to cut and decorate. Cutting small details such as talons, wings and back plates can be very challenging for kindergarten-aged students who are still working to strengthen their developing fine motor skills. Mr. Teixeira encouraged the students to take their time to carefully cut the complicated dinosaur templates. Students also referenced pre-selected books and pictures to inform their decorating choices. To add a bit of whimsy to the work, the students finished each dinosaur off with googly eyes.
During lunch one day, Mr. Teixeira sketched an outline for the bulletin board, so that Janice Tan and I could begin developing the background of the board with students during DREAM Lab. The 16-foot landscape was then rolled across the DREAM Lab floor and students worked together to paint, color and collage the board. They even gave it a little extra depth and dimension by adding puffy white clouds made from polyfill.
By the time the artwork for the board was done, the students had finished preparing their dinosaur facts up in the ECC and creating their individual dinosaurs in art class. We reviewed the concept of horizon lines, perspective and habitat, and each student selected a position for their dinosaur on the board.
Over the following two DREAM Lab class periods, Mrs. Tan worked with students rehearsing their facts and preparing them, while I recorded their voices down the hall in a quiet space. Using a USB microphone and the Garageband app, I recorded and saved each student’s voice. The students’ faces lit up as they learned to speak clearly into a microphone and then listened back to their recorded voices. They were each allowed to record multiple takes and they were encouraged to choose their favorite recording for the board.
At last, all the pieces were in place. All that remained was the addition of the technology. Here’s where our project stalled – for a few weeks, the board sat lifeless and incomplete, an unfinished promise, propped against the DREAM Lab wall. I knew I could easily finish the board in just a few hours and have it up and running, but it seemed like that would be such a lost opportunity. I wanted to have students do the work, but it wasn’t a task suited for a whole class. Serendipitously, my after-school Maker Club started up, and five fourth-grade students who had already had an extensive unit on building circuits were enrolled. Perfect! I approached them with the idea of finishing the board for the School Maker Faire and they were excited and on board.
During the next two after-school club meetings, the five fourth-graders built two computers, soldered multiple cables, organized and ran and insulated all the wiring (a significant amount), and programmed the computers they had built to recognize Makey Makey key-on messages to trigger audio files. They finished the board just in time for the School Maker Faire and it was a beautiful thing. When it all worked as it should and managed to survive a day of hands-on exploration from visitors at the School Maker Faire, we knew the project was a success.
Collaborating on this project improved our time efficiency and magnified one another’s teacher gifts. It provided us a context to model Baldwin’s core values and to provide rich learning opportunities for our students. Mrs. Tan and I only see Kindergarten students once a week for 30 minutes. Had we tried to complete this project in isolation we would have had to allocate months of instructional time rather than a few weeks. Mr. Teixeira drew the landscape for the bulletin board free hand in under 10 minutes. Tapping into his talent and expertise saved us hours of time we would have spent trying to figure out how to get the job done. (I will never forget watching him effortlessly draw a 16-foot sketch in the amount of time it took me to eat a sandwich. Mind blown!) Mrs. Beaverson and Mrs. Henkel set the tone for our collaboration, introducing students to the core content and providing the academic foundation for the experience. They invited parents into the project and extended the collaboration beyond school walls. By working inclusively and collaboratively, we provided a model of a community working together for the benefit of others. Older students supported younger students and they felt a sense of pride knowing they had done so. These are just a few of the positive outcomes of the collaboration.
For fellow educators and collaborators:
If you are interested in undertaking a collaborative project with a few other teachers, but you don’t have much experience doing so, here are a few tips to help ensure your success:
- At the start of a project, sit together and create clear and measurable goals. Who will do what and by what time? Then, communicate regularly regarding your progress. How is your piece of the puzzle coming along? Do you need support? Do you need more time? Let your collaborators know. Vulnerability is key.
- Be flexible. You may need to adjust expectations throughout the process. Sometimes you may think a goal has been clearly defined, but the goal may have been interpreted differently by your collaborators. When that comes up, see if you can go with the flow and be solution oriented. Embrace the work your collaborators have done rather than wish for work they have not done. Be ready for timelines to shift occasionally.
- Have a sense of humor or a playful spirit. Just remember not to take everything too seriously.
If you have an idea for a collaboration and you aren’t sure where to start, please consider reaching out to me. I am happy to collaborate with you on projects, or to facilitate your initial planning of a collaboration with other members of our community.