Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad Science

I will be the first to admit, I love Halloween and always have. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of making my own costumes and going out on crisp fall nights to trick or treat, watching the Walt Disney Halloween special, and trading candy with my brother. Now that I'm all grown up, and don't have kids of my own, I generally get my Halloween fix with my students. I have a huge box of props, manipulatives, and toys. I think I must own every Halloween-themed kids' CD out there (my paras counted today and I think they came up with 10; that doesn't count what I've downloaded to itunes). We typically do lots of Halloween-related activities like going to the local pumpkin patch, carving a pumpkin and playing in pumpkin guts (fun!), designing our own costumes (last year's favorite was a pirate complete with a pirate ship-stroller and a treasure chest treat box, oh, and the parrot, can't forget the parrot), and having a Halloween party. This year we have decided to have a Mad Scientist party instead of the more traditional Halloween classroom party. This came about for several reasons. First, Lon Thornburg of No Limits to Learning fame is sponsoring a "Mad Scientist" theme for October's Assistive Technology Blog Carnival and I really wanted to enter it so got "inspired." Second, I have at least one student whose family does not "do" Halloween so we always have to adapt. I've been fortunate that these families have not asked me to restrict the Halloween fun for the other students (and staff), but they prefer that their child do non-Halloween activities. Third, at the middle school level we are constantly striving to "age up" the kids' activities. So often they seem "stuck" at a preschool interest level and to some extent we allow them to appreciate their favorites (tops right now are Handy Manny, Tigger and Pooh, and SpongeBob). However, we also expose them to as much of the pre-teen/teen culture as we can. The Girls and I all agreed that a Mad Scientist party would not only be fun, but could work to meet a lot of our goals with the kids and still let us enjoy Halloween fun without tromping on anyone's beliefs. I mean, what middle schooler wouldn't want to dress in weird clothes, listen to loud music, and play with weird concoctions? Pretty much an average day around our school.

We had to get creative with our activities to accommodate the kids' sensory issues, especially with science experiments. The exploding volcano project (which would be cool coming out of a beaker) just would not be a big hit with so many kids with vision impairments and I don't think anyone would get the rubber chicken bone thing. Here are the activities we have planned and the assistive technology we will use to support the kids in all the fun:

Ahead of time
Reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in audio book format

Watching Young Frankenstein just for kicks (that will be on swimming day) complete with our own versions of the sound effects or "movie watching" social scripts programmed onto Step-by-Steps (Chloe and I would rather do a fun interactive version of Rocky Horror Picture Show but somehow I don't think that would fly real well; maybe I'll snag her and go to the Orpheum Theater in Wichita to do the real thing)

On the day
Dress up as mad scientists with wigs, gloves, and other props (we have a nurse and a trauma surgeon in our parent collection so I'm sure we'll get some good donations to the cause)

Sensory story on the Smart board based loosely on The Monster Lab Game and work by some folks in the UK (The Advisory Unit Plasma Screen and Whiteboard Room is definitely worth a visit!); the kids will have step-by-steps for appropriate sound effects, use the Smartboard or a jelly beamer to turn the page on whichever software product I decide to use (Boardmaker, Intellitools, SwitchIt!, or powerpoint), and explore all the smelly and ooey gooey props that go along with the story. This will take the place of our usual Morning Meeting activities

Play with a host of "Laboratory Equipment" like a static ball, different light toys, exploring sound effects and creepy music, and "beakers" with different things inside

Cook lunch which will probably be spaghetti and meat sauce (so we can use some of the spaghetti in the sensory story of course) and our favorite pumpkin pudding; I'll have to come up with an appropriate name of course. Hey! Green beans would make good "fingers," hmmm...

Do a Mad Science Experiment, probably making "oobleck" with bright colors (3 parts cornstarch to 2 parts water; fun stuff to play with); I think a mixer (adapted with powerlink) will work with this stuff; guess we'll find out!

Create our own "Frankenstein's Monsters" or robots and use our communication devices to make choices, adapted scissors to cut, etc.

Do the "Spooky Hooky," our version of the Hokey Pokey. The kids use either pictures or step scanning to choose what body parts to shake shake shake

That will probably fill up our day. I doubt we do any "trick or treating" as most of the kids either don't eat by mouth or have dietary restrictions that mean no candy allowed. We'll also create the right "atmosphere" with one of our creepy sounds CDs playing through the surround sound (including the itunes visualizer on the wall) and props set around the room, given I can find some "on the cheap." I'm sure the science teacher next door and the school resource officer will also make an appearance. They go all out for Halloween. At least they don't Vaseline my door handle anymore (learned their lesson after one of the kids ate the stuff! Kid is OK, adults a little sheepish).

I will post photos after the Big Event but wanted to get the initial post done in time for the Blog Carnival (submissions are due Oct. 27). Who knows? We might inspire you to have some Mad Science fun, or maybe you have some ideas to contribute to make our day even better. Consider submitting your own entry to the Carnival. It's painless and NOT SCARY AT ALL. It's a terrific way to share and to get word out about your blog.

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