Category Archives: Critical Thinking

iCivics Drafting Board

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited the iCivics site.  You can see my last post about it here (2012!).  The site, founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, offers interactives, games, and lesson plans for learning about civics.  And it’s all free!

There is a lot of curriculum available on the site, and teachers can log in and add students to a class, giving them assignments that the teachers can then monitor.  One of the tools that looks really great for 5th graders and up is the Drafting Board tool.  This is a robust, thought-provoking interactive that leads students through steps that result in crafting a persuasive essay.  I’ve embedded the iCivics  introductory video to Drafting Board below.  This PDF thoroughly explains how to use the tool.

iCivicsDraftingBoard

There are several things that appeal to me about Drafting Board.  It scaffolds the process of writing a persuasive essay based on evidence very well.  The teacher has the capability of differentiating the assignment by choosing different “challenge levels” for students. Though there is a lot of reading involved, all of the passages have accompanying audio for students who need that support.  These features make this a great UDL resource.

One of the lessons is about whether or not 16-year-olds should be given the right to vote - a topic that is frequently brought up by my students. (Actually, they think “all kids” should have the right to vote.)  Another one that would tie in very well with my 5th grade unit on The Giver is the question of whether or not students should be required to do volunteer work in order to graduate.

Even if you don’t have access to 1-to-1 devices for your students, Drafting Board would be a valuable whole-class lesson, or even a center for groups of students, inviting an educated discourse about controversial topics.

Help Desks

As my students gear up for this year’s Global Cardboard Challenge, they will also be researching a charity to which they will donate the proceeds from their cardboard arcade.  I want them to keep in mind Angela Maier’s mantra, “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution,” and to cultivate their empathy along with their creativity.

Help Desks for Indian children, created by
Help Desks for Indian children, created by Aarambh

As I was thinking about how to inspire my classes this year (many of whom have already seen the Caine’s Arcade videos), I ran across this video from an organization called, “Aarambh.”  Committed to helping students become more comfortable in their schools in rural areas of India, Aarambh found a way to make combination desks/backpacks out of discarded cardboard.  For less than 20 cents in American dollars, a child can be outfitted with this invaluable piece of equipment.  This is a great video to show students so many things:

  • the value of an education
  • how fortunate many of us are to receive a free education with numerous resources
  • how simple, yet creative, ideas can have an incredible positive impact
  • that recycling is not just a luxury but an imperative

Program Your Way to a Growth Mindset!

As I established yesterday, I don’t like bulletin boards and I do like stealing ideas from other people.  It’s ironic that I have posted two bulletin board pictures on this blog from my classroom in the last month since it is my least favorite part of setting up my classroom – but it makes more sense when you realize that I’m just building on the ideas of others.

I’m really emphasizing Growth Mindset in a big way this year, so both of my bulletin boards are aimed at that while I wait for my classes to start so I can hang up student work.  (I am currently testing students for the Gifted and Talented program.  Stapling their tests to the board would probably be frowned upon…)  A few weeks ago, I mentioned my “Courage Zone” bulletin board.  Today’s post is about a board I did that integrates a programming theme with thinking about mindsets.

All of my students from last year are familiar with Kodable, a great iPad game for learning the basics of programming.  So, I “stole”  one of Kodable’s beloved characters, Blue Fuzz, as well as a screen shot of the programming blocks and arrows.  I made a little path of blue squares and added some gold coins to make it look more like the game.  My twist was adding words to each path that represent Fixed and Growth Mindsets.  To top it off, I have a list of questions for the students to consider in preparation for a discussion about the board.

I’m not very artistic, so the board isn’t as “pretty” as I would like it. However, I’ve noticed all of the students I’m testing have looked at it with interest, so I’m hoping it is sending the message I intended.

I’m also a terrible photographer (but I keep trying because I have a Growth Mindset!) so forgive me for the low-quality pictures! You might want to click on the top one to get a better view of my blurry photo ;)

For more mindset resources, check out my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board here!

Program Your Way to a Growth Mindset!
Program Your Way to a Growth Mindset!

programgrowthquestions

 

 

Customized Padlet Backgrounds

@LearnMooreStuff and I had a history-textbook-worthy Twitter battle yesterday over who would blog first about this amazing resource from @TechChef4U.  Laura Moore graciously conceded (although I think she is secretly afraid that my light saber is more powerful than hers).

I love to use Padlet (formerly known as Wallwisher), and I’ve recently started to make my own backgrounds to organize the notes added to the board.  Yesterday, Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U) tweeted out an awesome resource that she is offering for free – 13 Graphic Organizer backgrounds to add as your Padlet wallpaper.  That is truly an awesome deal!  She even gives instructions on how to insert them.

Padlet Graphic Organizer Background from @TechChef4U
Padlet Graphic Organizer Background from @TechChef4U

 

If you want to make your own Padlet backgrounds, one easy way is to make one in Powerpoint or Keynote and save the slide as a .jpg file.  If you check out this post from Cari Young, there is a video from The Organized Classroom that gives a tutorial for using slides to make desktop backgrounds – which could easily apply to making Padlet backgrounds as well.

Recently, I’ve used backgrounds in Padlet for mini-EdCamp type PD. Teachers add notes about what they would like to learn about, and then the notes can be sorted into sessions.

Padlet is such a versatile tool – device neutral and user-friendly.  And, there have been two recent upgrades – an option to have a grid layout, as well as a Chrome extension.  Now, thanks to Lisa Johnson, it has even more potential!

It’s What You Make of It

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Almost exactly a year ago, I predicted the trends in education for the 2013-2014 school year.  I was re-reading that post today, and laughed at my addition of maker studios almost as an afterthought at the end of my post.  Anyone who has been reading education blogs and magazines will know that maker studios are becoming a huge trend, and that they are not limited to schools.

The-Maker-Movement

The truth is that many people are recognizing that there is a hunger in our youth to create and that the process of making is a deeper learning experience than regurgitating facts from a lecture.

There is not one right way to bring a maker studio into your school. Many schools are integrating them into their libraries or obsolete computer labs.  Some are incorporating the design process into their entire curriculum.  But, just like the Global Cardboard Challenge, you can still make a huge difference by starting small.

Last year, I realized that an empty classroom next door could be transformed into a maker studio.  I applied for a grant from our school’s PTA.  My GT classes named the room B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) and it basically became a testing ground for all of the new materials we purchased.  You may not have the luxury of an empty room, but a station in your classroom would work just as well.

Some of the items we purchased for our space were:

We also had a green screen that had been given to the school.

I didn’t know how to use any of the above until my students helped me figure them out.  Last year was really just time for us all to explore.

This year, I am starting an after-school Maker Club to involve more students than the ones in GT.  One thing I learned from last year is that I need to narrow my focus.  So, the Maker Club will have 4 main themes this year: Cardboard Challenge, Video Creation, Programming, and Electric Circuits.

In addition, the GT students who were exposed to materials last year will be challenged to find ways to incorporate them in our Cardboard Challenge and other projects throughout this year.

Eventually, I want B.O.S.S. HQ to be accessed by all students in the school, but I’m still working out the kinks on that.

My advice to a teacher just beginning would be the following:

  • Read Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez
  • Try the Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Add a station to your classroom that involves creating.  Little Bits are great, and the company offers educator discounts. Chibitronics and MaKey MaKey are also relatively inexpensive ways to start.
  • Make the mantra, “Think, Make, Improve” (from Invent to Learn) part of your classroom theme.
  • Celebrate the “growth mindset” so that students understand they will learn even when things don’t go as planned.  Rosie Revere, Engineer is a great book to reinforce this.
  • When you are ready to “go bigger”, enlist the help of the community.  You can find experts who can teach your students different skills, people who are willing to donate supplies (Donors Choose is great for this), and you might want to visit maker spaces and maker faires in your area for ideas on the type of inventory and organization you need.

If you search for “maker” on my blog, you will find many other posts I’ve done regarding this topic.  You can also visit my Pinterest board of Maker Resources here.  Two of my favorite online resources are Make magazine and Design Squad.  The online Maker Camp from Google and Make also has lots of ideas.

DragonBox Elements

I don’t often recommend paid apps on this blog.  One reason is that they are difficult for many educators to obtain for their classroom, as I outlined in yesterday’s post.  Another reason is that I feel that many of the paid apps have features that can be found in other free apps. However, every once in awhile, I run across a paid app that I think is unique and worth sharing.

I was recently given a promotional code for DragonBox Elements, and decided to test it out.  Previously, I had reviewed another app by the same company, DragonBox Algebra 5+, for AppoLearning.  (DragonBox 12+ is also available for older students, but I have not tried that one.) I was very impressed by the app, and have recommended it to parents who have young students with a high interest in math.

DragonBox Elements, like the Algebra apps, is designed to teach math “secretly.”  The Elements version teaches Geometry (I think they should change the name, as “Elements” made me think that it was a science app), and is aimed at students from 9-11.

DragonBox Elements - a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here
DragonBox Elements – a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here

The app accommodates up to 4 different players (individually, not at the same time), and has three levels of difficulty.  As advertised, it slowly guides you through basic geometric concepts by playing a game.  After learning to identify different types of triangles and quadrilaterals, the player begins to “prove” geometric characters into existence. For example, if one is given a triangle that shows two congruent angles, then there must be two congruent sides – making it an isosceles triangle.

None of the concepts are explicitly taught.  My daughter, who is 11, had the main complaint that she didn’t feel that she was learning anything.  However, when I asked her to explain her actions on a level, she basically gave me the steps of a geometric proof.

Like DragonBox Algebra, DragonBox Elements is a good app to recommend to parents who want to give their children an entertaining, educational app.  I think it definitely helps if there is an adult who can ask some guiding questions to aid the child in verbalizing what he or she has learned.

All of the DragonBox games are available on all mobile platforms here.  You can also find teaching resources on the site.

ScratchJr

I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer.  It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.

ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7.  It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)

As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction.  I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app.  Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the DinosaurKodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them.  However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.

The interface seems fairly simple.  The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video.  In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts.  Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.

Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved.  The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.

ScratchJr screen shot

For more information, you can visit the ScratchJr website.  There are a few materials available for teachers at the moment, and I’m sure more will be added as the project gains momentum.

So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch.  However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.

If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website.  However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom.  I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit.  It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.

Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool.  Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc…  Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.

Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.