Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Circuit Stickers

For today’s Gifts for the Gifted post, I’m going to rewind all the way back to July of this year.  Back then, I wrote about a product called Circuit Stickers from Chibitronics.  I realize that the word “stickers” might make you grimace.  But don’t stop reading, because these are not your ordinary stickers you can buy in packs of 4 sheets at Walmart. These are stickers that light up – if you arrange them the right way.

gifts

With the Chibitronics Starter pack (which can also sometimes be found on Amazon or Maker Shed), you will get the following:

  • 12 white LED stickers
  • 6 each of red, yellow, and blue LED stickers
  • 1 roll of copper tape (5 meters)
  • 2 CR2032 coin cell batteries
  • 2 small binder clips
  • 1 swatch of conductive plastic
  • 1 swatch of Z-conductive tape
  • 1 copy of the “Circuit Sticker Sketchbook” by Jie Qi, an introductory guide to using circuit stickers.
Chibitronics Starter Kit
Chibitronics Starter Kit

The Sketchbook is very important.  It’s kind of a workbook, and very helpful to non-electricians like my daughter and me.  I’m embarrassed to say that I never made a circuit in my life until I ordered this kit.  The workbook is very good at scaffolding circuitry, and suggesting ideas to build on each little project.

Once you “get” circuits, you can really get creative with the stickers, as the video from Chibitronics will show.  You can design cards and make fun jewelry or other fashion statements.

Speaking of cards, you can buy a holiday greeting card kit from Chibitronics here for $25.  It includes L.E.D. stickers and materials to make 3 cards.

If you have a child that is in to “making,” then you should definitely check out the Circuit Stickers.  For other Maker ideas, check out my Make Pinterest Board.

My Gifts for the Gifted series of posts will appear every Friday in November and December.  Here are links to the first two that I’ve done so far this year: Osmo and Shell Game.  You can see even more gift recommendations on this Pinterest Board.

 

Scratch Jr. Tutorials for Primary Students

Last week, I encouraged you to participate in this year’s Hour of Code. I know that guiding a classroom of students through an hour of programming can sound intimidating, particularly if you aren’t experienced in it yourself.  The secret is to do as I have – admit to yourself that you know nothing and your students are smarter than you.  Trust me, it makes life easier and a lot more enjoyable ;)

Any grade level can do the Hour of Code.  Code.org makes it very easy to moderate lessons for all ages and levels of experience.  But there are other resources as well.

Take Sam Patterson (@SamPatue), for example.  He teaches coding to elementary students, and decided to try out the new iPad app, Scratch Jr., with them this year.  So far, he has provided two video tutorials on his blog, “My Paperless Classroom,” and it’s my hope he will provide some more – mostly because they are exactly on my level! The first one is, “Learning about Loops,” teaches about how to have a character (sprite, as they are called) repeat an action.  The second one, “Creating a Dialog in Scratch Jr.,” shows how to have characters interact with speech in a program.  Both are good examples of integrating other curriculum with coding, and were used with 1st graders and 2nd graders respectively.  Sam’s awesome puppet, Wokka, does the video narration, making it even more appealing for young people.

I haven’t had a chance to jump in to Scratch Jr. yet with my students this year, but watching Sam’s tutorials makes me want to try it tomorrow.  It is going to be another creation tool that my classes will be able to use, and I imagine they will think of far better ideas for its use than I ever can!

UPDATE 11/18/14: For even more Scratch Jr. activities and video tutorials, check out the “Teach” section on the Scratch Jr. website.

If you’d like to access some more resource for teaching kids to code, check out my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board!

screen shot from Sam Patterson's tutorial on creating dialog
screen shot from Sam Patterson’s tutorial on creating dialog

Sketch Notes

Yesterday I picked up my 3rd grade GT students for class, and one of them had a cute little notebook.  When I asked her what it was for, she said that she just likes to take notes and draw things in it.

Funnily enough, I had just participated in a Twitter chat the night before, and we had talked about student engagement.  Note-taking was mentioned, and we discussed how copying down what the teacher has on the board isn’t usually very engaging, but other types of notes can be.  I gave the Vi Hart videos as an example of taking note-taking to another level.

I was curious to see what my 3rd grader would do with her notebook. I don’t find myself saying a lot of “noteworthy” things during class, so I suspected she would do more off-task drawing than anything academic.  However, I didn’t want to discourage another potential Vi Hart!

In our small circle of 6 + me, we discussed systems thinking and the Billibonk and the Thorn Patch book.  The monkeys had just learned that elephants were easy to trick from watching the mice, and we talked about how, as role models, we never know who is observing our behavior.  My student was busily drawing in her book, and I asked if she wanted to share.

systems thinking

She explained that getting away with doing something wrong could cause an endless loop -like a person breaking a window makes other people think it’s okay to break windows, and it keeps happening.

Definitely not off-task.

During our Hands-On-Equations lesson, my student sketched a lot in her book.  She later showed me her drawings – detailed examples of an equation we solved on the whiteboard along with the vocabulary I introduced today, “legal move.”

Photo Oct 28, 12 37 51 PM

Some people call it Sketchnotes.  Others call it mind mapping or visual note-taking.  My 3rd grade student’s notes haven’t reached the sophistication of Vi Hart, Austin Kleon, or other examples you will find online.  But I will have this young artist in my class until the end of 5th grade, and I can’t wait to see what her notes look like by then!

If you are interested in Sketchnoting, Kathy Schrock has an excellent page of links, apps, and video resources to use with students.  I think it would be well worthwhile to show some of the examples to students, and give them the option of visual note-taking in class.

UPDATE: 10/31/14 – I just found this great post on Doodling from Leah Levy that explains why doodling is great for your students and gives even more resources!

from Austin Kleon's Visual Note-Taking Page
from Austin Kleon’s Visual Note-Taking Page

Kids Philosophy Slam 2015

The new topic for the Kids Philosophy Slam has been announced: Violence or Compassion: Which has a greater impact on society?

You can find out more information about the topic on their website, including rules and guidelines.  The contest is open to students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, so you really should consider giving your students the opportunity no matter what their age.  Here is a great post by Joelle Trayers about how she incorporated philosophy into her lessons with Kinder and 1st graders.

You can see an example from a Kindergartener below from the 2013 contest.

Kids Philosophy Slam

Whether you choose to formally enter the contest, or just discuss the topic, it could certainly make for an interesting debate in your classroom! Here is another post I’ve done on the Teaching Children Philosophy website.  Also, if you might want to check out Richard Byrne’s great review of Socratic Smackdown, a fantastic tool guaranteed to liven up any deep discussions!

 

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.