Sunday, February 26, 2012

Building Challenge!

I was anxious all last week- yet another half day awaited me, and the thought of entertaining weekend-ready middle schoolers for 6 hours after their short day had me slightly worried.  I had put together what I thought was a cool challenge (ideas adapted from the internet/my old teachers) but was unsure how the girls would take it or if they'd be excited at all*.  So I apprehensively bought my supplies at what are quickly becoming my frequent haunts, Target and Michaels**, and headed home to prep.

The day arrived and I proposed my idea to the girls: Two building challenges with limited materials.  Only four girls came that day, so the girls would work in pairs, the two cousins versus the non-cousins.  They were instantly intrigued despite my nervous pitch.  I think a little friendly competition had sparked their interest.

I stood before the table laden with soda and fries they had purchased at break, took a deep breath and began my six hours: "Okay everybody, each team will get the exact same supplies: 100 popsicle sticks and two rolls of clear tape.  Your challenge is to build a bridge between two chair and see which team's bridge can hold the most books."

"I thought it'd be a bridge!" one of the girls whispered to another in anticipation.

"Miss, you counted the popsicle sticks yourself, right?" asked another, skeptically.

"Yes," I replied, "Just this morning."

"You must have been bored... Uh just kidding!!"

"Wait Miss, hand them to us at the same time!"

The girls got their two chairs set up, their supplies, and I started the clock.

Team Cousins:

 And Team Non-Cousins:

The time came to try out some of the books.  Team Non-Cousins:

I stood in for Team Cousins (one girl left, the other girl took photos):

Tensions were mounting very high.  It was nearly unbearable for some of the girls; they started to pace back and forth saying, "My heart is beating so hard!"

We stacked the books carefully, one by one, from equal-weight piles until:

It was the end of the day for Team Non-Cousins.  However, Team 1/2 Cousins 1/2 Teacher forged ahead to hold some pretty hefty wordage with those Spanish-English dictionaries:

Alas, there was one dictionary too many.***

The leftovers.

A good challenge!  The girls were so excited they didn't even notice that the pizza had shown up while building.

After lunch we went right in to the second challenge of the day.  The girls had been trying to guess what it was and I gave them a hint.  "For this challenge, we're building horizontally.  For the next challenge...."


That's right.  First I made the girls even more nervous by making them lay newspaper on the ground.  "Miss, is this going to be messy?"

"Well," I replied, "not really."****

The challenge (which you now know because you checked out the **** above)?  Build the tallest tower using a pound of spaghetti and a bag of marshmallows.  Go!

Side note: it was about this time that the other teacher, Ms. Elizabeth, brought her friends and father by to see what she's up to while she volunteers in Philly for the year.

Team 1/2 Cousins 1/2 Teacher + a Helpful Comment or Two from Ms. Elizabeth's Dad:

Team Non-Cousins + Ms. Elizabeth's Friend:

Team 1/2 Cousins 1/2 Teacher + Occasional Assistance from Ms. Elizabeth's Dad:

Team Non-Cousins + Rule Breaking Aid from Chair + Soda Bottle + Possibly Ms. Elizabeth's Foot:

Team 1/3 Cousins 1/3 Teacher 1/3 Ms. Elizabeth's Dad:


There didn't seem to be a clear winner (unless you want to DQ Team Non-Cousins for usage of non-challenge approved materials) since both structures unfortunately fell before anyone could find a measuring stick.  But all in all, a good time for everyone.  The theme of this month had been Love Your Neighbor, and after we had finished picking marshmallow bits from between our fingernails and out of our hair, we sat down to talk about what teamwork has to do with loving your neighbor.

"You have to have patience," one girl who had gotten frustrated numerous times said.

A girl from the other team said something to the effect of, "If you love your teammates, you'll listen better and work together better."

The afternoon passed by with a blink and everyone was super intrigued by the projects.  The fun didn't come so much in winning as in attempting to cut marshmallows into fourths or wondering how to use the tape sparingly.  Each team was given time to plan first, but both times they found that their original ideas didn't work very well.  Clear tape apparently doesn't stick to wood very easily.  Spaghetti is very fragile.  Time limits put pressure on good ideas.  But as they worked together, they saw what could be done and overcame the challenges together.

Oh.  And the Target cashier showed great restraint in not asking my why I was only buying spaghetti and marshmallows.

Also, to see a slideshow of just the images, click on an image.

*Did you know that when you search "getting them to do something is like pulling teeth" when looking for an image for a good linkout, the first three pix are of students?  Also, I didn't find a good linkout.  Probably because I'm not Jill.

**I keep not signing up for a rewards card because I think, "I can't imagine why I'll come back here again soon."  Really?  I have been here almost every week since Christmas.  I challenged myself to find the supplies I needed using only my Michael's Spidey Senses, aka, no peeking at what's in the aisle.  I got right there, right end of the shelf and everything.  That's scary.

***No books were harmed during the breaking of the bridges.

****Famous last words.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And sometimes we have fun, too

Today was Manayunk on Ice, which is an ice carving competition, and not show, as was my first impression.

This guy, after nearly losing his finger to the chainsaw (green thing on the table in the background, which he told us not to use at home) was now breaking every warning label and ironing a piece of ice.  Yup, that's right, ironing.  So today I learned that water + electricity + bloody chainsaw finger = beautiful ice carving.*

This guy's Mom was so proud of him.  "Look at the depth!  Look at the detail!!  I think this is your best one yet.  I really do.  With my amateur eyes.  But you didn't go overboard.  I mean, remember what happened last year?"

"Thanks, Mom."

"No really, you really did the best I've ever seen.  But it's a good thing you stopped here and didn't give the fish big wings** or anything.  Remember last year?  Remember?"

What happened last year???

This guy was unsuccessfully attempting to attach a flipper to whatever creature this was:

Beautiful work!

And finally, giraffes in love:

We finished out our Manayunk tour with a trip to Three Potato Four, which apparently does super cool antiquing in super hipster places, like this one:

And, despite my lactose intolerance***, I decided to indulge in what was the BEST GRILLED CHEESE I've ever had here:

I created a personal combo of provolone, avocado, and garlic mayo on super butter saturated Italian bread. MMMMM.  Sweet day!

*Yeah, don't try at home.  Or, every probably.

**Wings?  Perhaps I remembered wrong.

***Oh, enjoy I did.  Ask Emily.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


After a month of encouraging our students to keep track of their progress towards their goals we decided to make a project to help them visualize their progress.  Knowing that writing stuff in a planner can be boring, Elizabeth came up with this great idea:

Chalkboard Calendars!  Receiving some great donations of chalkboard paint and chalk markers, the girls set to work on making their own creation.

The day was a fun one.  We ordered some pizza and wings and ate/painted/watched Narnia and shared some of our favorite music with each other.  Needless to say, my music got booed and replaced with something a little more enjoyed by the girls.  Elizabeth's Florence and the Machine was received semi-favorably.

The girls were so excited about their calendars that they couldn't wait to take them home and hang them up in their rooms.  Now here's to hoping that they remember to write their homework on it!