Integrating Contraption Maker from 1st Grade to Foreign Language Study

January 5th, 2016 by Deborah Fike

Kris Schwengel


We last heard from Kris Schwengel, one of our educational advisors, last summer as he was winding down his English Language Arts / machine-building lesson with his 4th Graders.  In this update, Kris brings us up to speed on how he’s improving his original lesson, plus some other Contraption Maker projects in the works at his K-12 school.  


Contraption Maker in 4th Grade ELA

Contraption Maker use is spreading! In 4th Grade, we’ll continue using Contraption Maker to inspire writers to use a variety of sentence starters (First, Next, Then, Finally, etc.) and also teach descriptive writing. Students make a machine, write about it, and then pass that writing to another student in order to recreate the machine based only on text. This is wildly fun and motivating for students.

In two other parts of the school we are asking the following questions:

How can we use Contraption Maker in a 1st Grade classroom to promote creativity, collaboration, and tie it into age appropriate writing? Contraption Maker is a bit overwhelming for young students because of the variety of objects to insert into machines, so we’ve created a bulletin board that not only explains the tools, but also gives students start and end points.  Instead of choosing from the endless selection of tools, students work to “fill in” machines, sort of a younger version of the puzzles. This ‘low tech’ version of CM also allows for some focused collaboration without the distraction of any technology.

(Note: If you want to create your own felt board, you can download all image files from our Contraption Maker Parts page.)

The Contraption Maker Felt Board is a big hit with the younger elementary grades.

The 1st Grade Contraption Maker Felt Board

How can we use CM to teach a foreign language? In 8th Grade we have now given the Japanese 1 students Contraption Maker to use and learn over Christmas break. Upon their return, they’ll make simple seven-step machines, create a script in Japanese narrating the action, then create a video with audio narration. This is terribly exciting to me because this is precisely how I wish I were taught a new language at that age.

For those worried about standardization and testing, that’s a great question to ask. We have little doubt we’ll see an increase in motivation for students to learn new words and I’m quite sure the learning will be “stickier” than traditional methods, but here’s a great question: Do students all need to learn the same nouns, verbs, and adjectives? Is simple “forward progress” a standard we can accept when it comes to language acquisition? Teachers could certainly create machines for kids to translate/narrate, but that defeats the purpose of students creating something from scratch based on their own interests. Learning in classrooms is becoming more and more personalized. This project represents that shift perfectly.

We’ll provide more updates on these projects as they become available.


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