Coding, MakeyMakey and a Field Trip Around the Solar System in Senior Kindergarten

By Lower and Intermediate School Library and Information Services Specialist Mary Catherine Coleman

Several years ago, the Integrated Learning and Information Sciences (ILIS) Department created Library Flex days to have more time for in-depth projects with the Kindergarteners. Each of the three SK classes have two four-week periods during the school year when students come to the library on their Ex-Days. Half the students come Monday afternoons for 30 minutes, and the other half comes Wednesday afternoons. The smaller class size allows us to do more hands-on projects and gives us more time with students to explore topics that that interest them. Before each flex session, the ILIS Department connects with the classroom teachers about topics the students are interested in, subjects they have been exploring in the classroom and areas they think the students would love to explore more. Throughout the years, we have participated in some fun projects about mazes, dinosaurs, clouds, coral reefs, peace and monarch butterflies. This year, Dana O’Brien’s class is into space, completing a huge project about the moon, the moon landing and astronauts. During their library flex time, we continued the exploration of space by studying the planets in our solar system.

We started the project time with research and reading about the planets in the solar system. We read the book If Pluto was a Pea by Gabrielle Prendergast, a nonfiction book I like because it focuses on the solar system planets and the degree to which they vary in size. The book compares the planets to objects that students are familiar with—like Pluto is a pea and Jupiter is a beach ball—which helps students make connections with the significant differences in the planets. Next, we used the library’s Merge Cubes to explore the solar system using augmented reality. The Merge Cube is a cool device that, when viewed through an app on the iPad, makes the objects pop out. SKers explored the solar system AR app with the Merge Cube to learn more about the locations of planets in the solar system and their rotations around the sun. The solar system AR app also has information boxes to share facts about each of the planets.

Students continued their research during the next session using the library’s PebbleGo database. PebbleGo is a research resource for younger students and is a wonderful entry point for online research. PebbleGo also has a “read to me” function that allows younger students to seek information more independently. SKers worked in small groups to research different planets and collect notes on their topic.

The next session focused on building the planets! Students reviewed their research, explored images of their planets and worked together to build the planets using round paper lanterns and tissue paper. They also used pipe cleaners to add rings and foam balls and wire to include the moons of the different planets. The sun group learned about solar flares on the giant star and used lots of tissue paper to add flare!

The final step was creating an interactive map with MakeyMakey and Scratch coding. The ILIS Department created the map using an Instructables project shared by Makerspace Librarian Colleen Graves. The map included conductive tape, wires, MakeyMakey and students holding hands to complete the circuit to make music and voice recordings play. We created the map using the instructions from Graves and made adjustments to create a path that followed the order of the planets from farthest to closest to the sun. Next, students recorded facts they learned about the planets, and we uploaded the recordings to Scratch coding and connected them to the different inputs on the MakeyMakey. When two students walked on the conductive tape while holding hands, space-inspired music played; at each planet there is a copper footprint, and when a student on the yellow path steps off the conductive tape onto the copper footprint, it triggers the input to play audio sharing facts that students recorded about each planet. We placed all the planets on the map, the wires connected, the sun hung up—and the final touch was that Colonel Francis W. Parker put on a spacesuit, ready to explore the solar system!

Now the students were ready to share. On the final day, students paired up to explore the solar system map they created, walking the path and completing the circuits to learn more about each planet. While some groups were investigating the interactive map, other students used the library’s virtual reality Google Expeditions goggles to explore the solar system in an immersive 3D field trip. It was a great trip to outer space!

Click here for photos!
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.