Category Archives: Critical Thinking

8-Bit Philosophy

There aren’t a lot of opportunities in a standard curriculum for students to think philosophically.  Hopefully, teachers still find ways to give them time for such discussions.  In the past, I’ve written about the Kids Philosophy Slam and Teaching Children Philosophy as resources for integrating philosophy into the classroom.  Both of those offer ways for students for K-12 to become philosophers.

8-Bit Philosophy would be better for older students – middle school and above.  The topics are a little “heady” for elementary.  However, I think tweens and teens would really enjoy the fun graphics in these short videos, and they would definitely spark some interesting conversations.  There are currently 7 episodes available.  Each one is between 2-4 minutes long.  The subjects range from, “Do humans operate like computers?” to “Can we be certain of anything?”  (After watching the latter, I’m only certain that we can’t!)

As always, preview any videos before showing them to students. Religion is discussed in several of these, and there is a bit of video game-ish violence.

from: 8-Bit Philosophy
from: 8-Bit Philosophy – Episode 3
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Help Kids Code

It hasn’t been that long since I started collecting resources for teaching kids how to program on my Pinterest Board, but it seems like I already have enough links to keep any interested child occupied from Kindergarten to Adulthood. helpkidscode-logo-100x100 I recently ran across an online magazine, Help Kids Code, that offers even more support for anyone that has a passion for learning how to program. According to the “About” page for the site, the people behind it are well aware that there are many kids who may be introduced to coding and find that it isn’t their niche: “If you find coding fun, learning a programming language is only a start. You also need to know how to debug code, choose technology, define and solve problems, and many other skills and concepts. Help Kids Code provides a high level view of what new coders need to know to become great coders. With links to learn more. If coding bores you, Help Kids Code can help you dive into computer science concepts, problems, and challenges in a friendly way. You can learn the limits of technology, as well as what makes technology so amazing.” The magazine is published monthly, and an annual subscription costs $12.  From what I can tell, you can access the current issues for free.   The June/July 2014 issue has tons of intriguing articles that I’m still investigating – including a treasure trove of “unplugged” activities for learning about computer science.  I’m particularly interested in the problem called, “Santa’s Dirty Socks.” I am impressed by the sophistication and the depth of this site, and think that those of you who are looking for ways to satisfy the curiosity of young people with a passion for computer science will find many valuable links and articles here.

The Giver

from Lois Lowry's Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver
from Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver

If you visit my Pinterest Board of Books for Gifted Students, you will see The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is prominently featured.  I read this dystopian novel along with my 5th grade Gifted and Talented students every year, and those of you who know me are aware that I don’t often do the same thing more than once.  However, this book seems brand new with every group of students.  The discussions are rich and we are always able to find many connections to current events and their own lives.

The Giver is coming to theaters this August.  It will be interesting to see how the book transfers to the big screen.  You can see how Lois Lowry feels about the movie in this recent Twitter chat in which she participated that is posted on Walden Media.  More resources from Walden Media, including educational materials, are available here.  I highly recommend Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech – which gives incredible insight into the formation of the book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I recently participated in Walden Media’s “Teachers are Givers” contest, and was one of the 4 winners.  They chose a teacher each week for four weeks, based on technology lesson plans we submitted.  I didn’t expect to win, as my amazing colleague, LeAnne Hernandez, won the first week.  However, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the second winner.  I recommend you take a look at the winning entries, as there are some fabulous ideas for integrating this amazing novel with technology in the classroom.  I was truly impressed with the other 3 teachers’ submissions, and can’t wait to try them!  If you feel so inclined, you may want to vote for your favorite lesson plan.  The overall winner will receive a hometown screening of The Giver.

If you are looking for some other resources to support The Giver, you should definitely take a look at Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have a “Depth and Complexity with The Giver” product available for $1.00, but there are tons of other related products on the site – many of them free.

Also, here is a post I did awhile ago on Book Trailers for The Giver.

Read Write Think has a lesson called, “Memories Matter: The Giver and Descriptive Writing Memoirs.”

For older students, you can find some interesting resources on Schmoop (“We Speak Student”).

Whatever you do, if you choose to use this book with your class, be sure to leave lots of time for discussion.  This is a book that demands conversation.  Thoughtful dialogues will help your students to become much more reflective about its themes and implications.  You could probably spend a year on this book, and never fully explore some of the topics it suggests.  It will definitely make an impact, and will be a piece of literature that your students will never forget.

Robot-1900-BoxShot

Tried and True – Robot Turtles

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

robotturtles

For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I want to revisit a game that I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog – Robot Turtles.  Robot Turtles was another Kickstarter project that I backed, but the product is now available through ThinkFun, Amazon, and Target.  I used it during Hour of Code last year with my younger students to introduce the whole concept of programming.  After that, my 1st graders loved having it in a center during the year.  When my Kindergartners started class in the spring, they also got to try it.  They thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

The great thing about Robot Turtles is that it can be used for various levels of play, and there is a lot of room for imagination and creativity.  Older students and families find it fun to play, too.  If you have some room in your budget for an educational classroom game that is a great value, then I highly recommend Robot Turtles.

Tried and True – Genius Hour

Students involved in an "Interactive Genius Hour Presentation"
Students involved in an “Interactive Genius Hour Presentation

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

Some might call it 20% Time.  Others call it Passion Time.  My first encounter with it was as “Genius Hour,” and so I’ve kept that label.  There are many versions, and many recommended ways to do it.  The crux of the matter, however, is that many educators have found that it is important to allow students to pursue studies in topics that interest them and have relevance to their lives.  I began doing Genius Hour several years ago with my GT 5th graders.  This past year, I expanded it to 3rd and 4th grades.  Every year, and with each grade level, I’ve done things a bit differently.  But I continue to do it because I have definitely seen the value.  I can’t imagine my classroom without Genius Hour – and once I introduce it to a group, they will not stand for it to be taken away from them.  If we ever miss it because of scheduling conflicts, I have a near mutiny on my hands.

You can see my Genius Hour Journey by going to the Genius Hour Resources page (there is a tab at the top of this blog).  I also have downloadables (I highly recommend the Challenge Cards – a big hit with my class this year!), as well as links to other fabulous Genius Hour Resources.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will see some recommended articles for “newbies” to Genius Hour.

Genius Hour is messy.  It’s loud, and there is absolutely no sitting down on the teacher’s part.  Most of the time, your students are learning about topics in which you have no expertise whatsoever.  It can be frustrating and extremely challenging to your sanity.

But, once you see the impact it has on your students, you will find that it changes your philosophy of teaching.  And, even the moments that are not dedicated to Genius Hour in your classroom will slowly become more student-centered and more meaningful.

 

Smart Girls Summer Camp

Smart Girls Summer Camp Online

Smart Girls Summer Camp

In May, I posted about the awesome Smart Girls at the Party website, which has entertainer Amy Poehler as part of its creative team.  They offered a summer camp in Austin for girls, and it apparently went well.  I noticed that they have decided to expand the camp so more girls can participate.  They plan to make it available online in July.  There isn’t a lot of information yet, but the description does mention that the materials are being created to appeal to a broad range of ages (from 5 to over 21!).  Click here to read the information they have so far!