Category Archives: Critical Thinking

More Ideas for Pic Collage

I had a great time at the end of last school year allowing the students to use the Pic Collage app on the iPads to create mini-yearbooks using pictures from our class blog.  There are many uses for the app, and I’m pretty sure that I have yet to use it to its full potential.

Using Pic Collage to summarize your favorite moments from the school year
Using Pic Collage to summarize your favorite moments from the school year

At a recent PD about using apps for creating, one of my colleagues, Camala Rose-Turnage, suggested using the app for a fraction study. Students could take a group of pictures, of which only some have a certain thing in common (such as the color red), and then other students could figure out the fraction.  Awesome!  Besides the fact that I had never heard an idea like this before, I could see a lot of potential for differentiation.  Some students might choose obvious traits for their groups, such as color or shape; others might select something more abstract, such as objects that are used for particular activities (recess toys) or ones that all start with a certain letter.  The fractions might vary in complexity, too.  You could have some students portray fractions that could be reduced, or even – depending on the Pic Collage layout – mixed numbers.

Speaking of math, here is a post showing how students can use Pic Collage to create their own math reviews.  And here are some other ideas that could be used in a primary classroom.

Pic Collage is also great for app-smashing.  Use it with Thinglink and Aurasma for an awesome interactive poster.  You can find a ton of Pic Collage app-smashes on this Pinterest board by Holly Inniger.

What’s your favorite way to use this versatile app?

Feminism at its Finest

There has been a lot of discussion about “feminism” in the news lately – particularly since Emma Watson’s outstanding speech supporting the U.N.’s HeForShe Campaign.  The oppression of women that continues to happen around the globe must stop, and we can all help by watching out for intentional and unintentional negative stereotypes. I have been heartened by a few other stories that I’ve seen in the media during the last week of young people who are brave enough to take a stand against those who continue to reinforce sexist viewpoints:

Malala Yousafzai, who was announced last week to be the co-winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize (along with Kailash Satyarthi), is 17 years old, and continues to fight for the education of women everywhere despite being shot in the head in retaliation for her actions.  She recently appeared in a video for Code.org, urging girls to participate in the Hour of Code.

Not long ago, McKenna Peterson wrote an eloquent letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods after noticing that their 2014 Basketball catalog included no female athletes.  She is 12.  After the fury of media attention, the CEO of the company wrote a letter of apology, and promised to rectify the situation.

And finally, another impressive letter supporting the abolition of gender stereotypes was published in a London newspaper in late September. It was written by a 15-year-old boy, Ed Holtom, as an endorsement of Emma Watson’s U.N. speech.  His mature and insightful words remind us that wisdom is not restricted to people over 21.

Excerpt from Ed Holtom's letter in the Telegraph
Excerpt from Ed Holtom’s letter in the Telegraph

 

Gravity Maze

Every year I do a “Gifts for the Gifted” series of posts during the holiday season.  It’s a bit early for that – although many retailers would disagree with me – but I have a recommendation that will definitely be on this year’s list.

For my Phun Phriday post this week, I am enthusiastically suggesting that you check out the Gravity Maze game from Thinkfun.  (Full disclosure: I received this game for review from the company, but I am under no obligation to advertise or write about it.)

Whenever we have indoor recess, I always have a large group of students that race to the container with the Marble Run materials. Others will grab Perplexus to play with.   All age levels are fascinated by watching marbles move along a path – particularly if it’s a path they designed.

Gravity Maze will certainly appeal to any child who enjoys these types of activities.  It’s a one-player game, but students can work as partners or take turns in a group.  The game comes with challenges that increase in difficulty, requiring the player to design a maze using the towers of varying color and size that will result in the marble falling into a certain place once released.

gravitymaze

I really feel like Thinkfun has hit a home run with this one!  It is a great logic puzzle that will appeal to kinesthetic and spatial learners.  It’s also a nice way to expose young children to some construction and engineering concepts.

You can see a video of how the game works embedded below.  Also, if you go to Thinkfun’s Gravity Maze page, you will find a review of Gravity Maze by Tom Vasel.  You will also see a slide show of other marble/construction games that have been around for awhile, including my absolute favorite when I was a kid, Labyrinth!

Want to see more games that I recommend?  Check out my Games and Toys for Gifted Students (actually they are for anyone who wants to challenge their brain and have fun!) That I Recommend Out of the Kindness of My Own Heart, and Not Because I Get Paid, Pinterest Board.

UPDATE:  The inventor of Gravity Maze, Oliver Morris, is up for an Inventor of the Year Award! And here is an interesting interview with Wei-Hwa Huang, who designed the challenges for Gravity Maze.

What Breaks Your Heart?

My GT classes and our after-school Maker Club are participating in this year’s Global Cardboard Challenge.  Select projects will be chosen to bring to a local party/entertainment center, Main Event.  We will be inviting the community to play the games for a $1, as well as selling wristbands to access the other fun activities at the facility. All of the money we raise will be going to a charity that the students choose.

But, how can I get several classes of students – in addition to the 24 students in the Maker Club – to decide on which charity will receive our donation?  I decided to use an idea from Angela Maiers, who is internationally renowned for her motivational speeches about how we should Choose to Matter.  One of my favorite quotes from her is, “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution.”

In a blog post last year, Angela described the process for:

  • helping students to determine what matters the most to them
  • determining what “breaks their hearts” about their passions
  • thinking of possible solutions to those problems.
by @Kara Dziobek
by @Kara Dziobek

So far, I’ve walked two of my classes through the first two phases.  It has been very enlightening.  Similar to the activity that Angela describes from teacher Karen MacMillan, I had students mind-map their passions in the middle of a piece of paper.  Then they drew branches from each of those that identified what breaks their hearts regarding those topics.

As an example, I told them that teaching and learning are both passions for me.  What breaks my heart is that there are still children, particularly girls, who are denied the right to an education.

One boy had brainstormed every single sport he could think of as a passion.  When asked what broke his heart about them, he replied, “When I lose a game.”  I had to question him a bit more to get a deeper, less self-centered answer – “when people get injured.”

After we shared the things that break their hearts, we looked for trends or patterns.  Sports-related injuries was a big one with my 3rd graders, as well as cruelty to animals and pollution.  The latter two were also common themes with my 4th graders.  Today, I will get feedback from 5th grade.  Armed with the information from three grade levels, we can then try to find a charity that many of them will find meaningful.

We will also be holding on to these papers to use as jumping-off points for this year’s Genius Hour projects.

I really loved this process for so many reasons.  It tells me about what is important to my students and gives them a voice.  It shows them that they have responsibilities to be contributors as well as consumers.  And, it helps them to understand themselves a little better.

I’ll keep you posted as we continue on this journey :)

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