GoNoodle

It’s time for state-wide testing in my neck of the woods.  Even though we are not allowed to have computers on during the test, you might want to consider using GoNoodle after the test, particularly for students who have been sitting for awhile. They also recently added a feature called, “Flow,” which helps with stress.

I mentioned GoNoodle a while back in a post I did on “Physical Ways to Survive the Week Before Winter Break.”  Shortly afterward, I started meeting with my new Kinder GT students twice a week.  On Fridays, they miss Kinder Cafe (when the students go to the gym once a week to dance to different songs) to come to my class.  Last year, the students didn’t seem to mind.  But, this year I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. Even though, they only meet with me for an hour on Fridays, and we barely sit down the entire time, it was clear they needed a “Brain Break.” So, I thought I would give GoNoodle a try.

GoNoodle is free.  You can register your class (no individual student names necessary) and then get started.  It’s a fun way to gamify being physical for your entire class.  I usually choose a student randomly with Class Dojo to pick that day’s GoNoodle activity. (“Let it Go” and “Everything is Awesome” are huge favorites.) There are lots of videos to choose from – some including more physical activity than others.  Go Noodle keeps track of the time spent on the video, and gives the class points toward the next level.

The students enjoy the goofy looking characters and the silly pieces of trivia they offer.  But, of course, they enjoy the music and dancing the best.  Admittedly, not a lot of dancing goes on with “Let it Go.”  It’s actually more of a sing-along with dramatic magical gestures :)

If you are wondering about the appeal to older students, you might want to check out this post from @TechNinjaTodd about the way he uses GoNoodle with 5th graders.

Note: If you are in a district that blocks YouTube, you may have some trouble accessing some of the videos. Our district allows us to log-in, but the first time I tried to go directly “Be Happy” through GoNoodle without logging in, I had a group of very disappointed Kinders!

a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks

a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks

Using Origami to Foster a Growth Mindset

origami

Have you ever tried to teach origami to a large group of first graders?  It can be a challenge, to say the least.

Every year, when my 1st graders study Japan, I attempt an origami project.  Every year, I do it differently.  And every year I berate myself for doing it wrong.  No matter how slowly I give instructions or how many times I demonstrate under a document camera, there are several students who end up frustrated while other students grow increasingly bored with the repetitive instructions and having to wait while I help others make a valley fold.

Last year was a little better when I let the students use iPads and sites that showed videos of origami folding so they could work at their own pace.  But many of them immediately chose projects that were too difficult and gave up after finding themselves overwhelmed.

You’re probably shouting all kinds of helpful teacher advice at the computer right now, including, “Give up the origami project, you fool!  It’s not like they need to know that as a real-world skill!”

That is very true.  But perseverance can be a good skill (until it becomes stubbornness).  And learning from mistakes is a good skill.  Being aware of your own ability level and how far you should push yourself is a pretty good skill, too.

As I’ve been learning about the advantages of a growth mindset this year, I’ve been trying to share this with my students.  It’s become part of our daily vocabulary in some of the grade levels, but I haven’t approached it that way with my younger students, yet.  I decided to use the origami lesson to help me do that with my 1st graders. (Here is a great growth mindset chart that you might like to include in your classroom.)

Last week, I asked the 1st graders to think of an activity that was easy, medium, and hard for them.  For each activity, they drew a picture to represent it.  For example, if reading is easy for a student, she might draw a book.  If math is hard, he might draw a multiplication sign.

Then we all made a simple origami rabbit.  I asked them to think about how the activity compared to the ones on their “Levels of Difficulty” sheet.  We talked about how it was easy for one student because he has a lot of experience with origami, and that it was perfectly fine that it was hard for another student because this was her very first time doing origami.  We stapled their projects to their sheets.

This week, I read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain to them (which they loved – perfect level for them!).  We related it to the origami experience and discussed how important it is to stretch your brain, and not just stick to the things that are easy for us.

Then I gave them some origami sites, and they worked in partners to do whatever project they chose.  I reminded them that if they should choose a project based on their experience.

“If you’ve done lots of origami before, should you pick an easy one?”

“NO!”

“If you’ve never done it before last week, should you pick a hard one?”

“NO!”

I told them that I was not going to help them, that they would need to figure it out on their own, unless they needed help with a word.

I let them go, and held my breath.

“This one is too hard,” one of the students said after a few minutes.

“Let’s keep trying,” his partner said.  “I think we can do this.”  They unfolded and re-folded several times.  After 10 minutes, they did it.  They were so proud!

A student working by himself nearly did cartwheels around the room once he figured out his project.

Similar stories played out all around the room.  There were some sighs of frustration, but no giving up and no tears.  I was able to walk from table to table, giving encouragement, praising perseverance instead of frantically trying to get everyone to the same place.

At the end of class, the students couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly.  There was a unanimous vote to continue working on origami next class.

In a way, I felt like I’d just completed my own origami project. It only took me about 5 years to finally get it right.

Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met

Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met

 

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

tribes

Recently, one parent loaned me a book by Seth Godin.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us would probably not have taken me quite so long to read if I wasn’t stopping to take notes every 5 seconds! I found a lot of applications to teaching and learning that I definitely found valuable.

One of the popular conversations in education these days is the need to teach our students how to deal with failure.  I’m going to save my thoughts on that for another post.  But I found that Seth Godin had some interesting things to say about the tendency to fear failure.  According to him, “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”  He goes on to say that any thing that is really worth doing is going to generate conversation – and probably criticism.  He urges, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing.”  I think that’s a great message that we should convey to our students.

Along those same lines, Godin gives the secret of being wrong. I hope he doesn’t mind if I divulge that right now.  “The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!  The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

I deal with this in the classroom daily.  Students will be afraid to even attempt an answer sometimes.  I sometimes coax them into it by asking them to think of the worst thing that will happen if they are wrong.  Or I point out a recent incident (and trust me, there are many) when I was wrong and I surprisingly did not self-destruct. Invariably, I can convince the student to take a risk by using those techniques.

I have many other notes, but I will leave you with one last thought that I read near the end of the book.  As is often the case in my life, the timing could not have been more perfect.  You see, the day before I read this particular passage, I took my 5th grade class on a tour of Rackspace, a company located near us that has been named one of the top companies to work for.  In a section of Godin’s book called, “Ronald Reagan’s Secret,” Seth Godin gives the example of Graham Weston, executive chairman of Rackspace, who needed to convince his employees of the wisdom of a recent business decision. Instead of giving a speech to persuade them, however, Weston met with every single employee “who was hesitating about the move and let them air their views.  That’s what it took to lead them: he listened.”

So often, that is what our students need.  They just need someone to listen, to assure them that their voice has been heard.

Teachers like that, too – every once in awhile ;)

Some Genius Tweaks to our Genius Hour

321snap

(If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, be sure to visit my Genius Hour Resources Page.)

One of my many goals for rebooting Genius Hour this year was to help the students to create more engaging presentations.  Their passion just wasn’t coming through when it came time for them to share it with their peers.  It intrigued me how, during a reflective discussion about a presentation, many students would suggest making it more interactive or entertaining.  But a few weeks later, when it became their turn to share their own learning, their presentations would follow the same already-determined-to-be-unexciting formula.

This school year, I was determined to change this.  I believe that it was because of some of the change that I made that last week, I was rewarded with some of the best Genius Hour presentations I’ve seen since I started doing GH several years ago.

Change 1: My 4th grade GT students, who had never done Genius Hour before, created proposals for their projects – and then the class voted on them.  I was a little hesitant to try this idea at first, but pleased with the results.  Several proposals were voted down the first time based on the criteria we came up with (will the researcher learn anything new? will the class learn anything new from the presentation? will the class be able to use this new information in a practical way? is it interesting?)  Then the students went back to the drawing board and came up with better ideas, which were approved.  No feelings were visibly hurt, and the topics that seemed weak to me were also the same ones that didn’t receive enough votes from the class.

Change 2: To give my students ideas for alternative methods for presenting, I pointed out that I pretty much never use Powerpoint to give them new information – nor do I talk at them for 20 minutes or longer spouting facts.  Then, I gave them the Show What You Know paper to spark some new ideas for sharing their learning.  When they realized there were so many other options, suddenly Powerpoint lost its popularity.

Change 3: I gave them some tips from the SlideShare presentation, “What Would Steve Do?”  (“Steve” is Steve Jobs.) Specifically, I told them to work more on creating a visual story than on a slide show with bullet points.  And – now this is the big one – I emphasized the importance of rehearsing.  After looking at the SlideShare myself, I realized that this was a major weak spot in my classroom.  Students would spend several days on research, several days on creating the presentation, then – boom! – they would inform me they were ready for an audience.  “From now on, we are giving equal time to all three,” I told the students.  “As much time as you spend on research, you will spend on production and then on rehearsal.”

The first 2 groups were ready to present last week – and, wow!  They blew me away with their creativity and polished performances.

Group 1 presented on “How to Take Better Pictures.”  They first shared a poster with information using examples of pictures and a timeline about the history of the camera.  Then they involved the audience by having a game show to review what they had learned from the poster. They performed like real game show hosts, and used an iPad with the Game Show Sound Board app to make it sound realistic.  They had a name for the show (3,2,1 Snap!), a catchy intro, and even a commercial and poster advertising their show!

Group 2 presented what they had learned about Mars.  They did a well-scripted, well-rehearsed play that involved scenery and props, included a salt-dough representation of Mars, and invited the class to fill out a Venn Diagram comparing it to Earth!

After the two groups were finished, we reflected on both presentations as a class, and the students took notes on what they thought did or did not work.  I told them that I would hold them accountable for those notes.  Whatever they felt needed work in the first two presentations, they needed to be sure to improve in their own.

This was the first time that I saw the entire class engaged in someone else’s projects.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

rocket

The Wonderful Wil Wheaton

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.46.35 PM

Almost a year ago, I posted an article called, “Why It’s Awesome to Be a Nerd.” It featured a video that was taken of Wil Wheaton responding to a question at the Calgary Comic Expo of 2013.  The question came from a mother in the audience who asked him to give advice to her daughter.

Trending on Twitter yesterday, I saw another video of Wil Wheaton.  This time, the former Star Trek star and current Awesomest Nerd of All Time was at Denver Comic Con in 2013, and answered a young girl who asked him how she should deal with being called a “nerd” by classmates.

Wheaton’s response is great.  What I love is that he recognizes that telling someone to ignore the hurtful tone of the words (because, let’s face it – being a “nerd” can be a compliment or insult depending on how it’s said) is not helpful.  He empathizes with the young girl, and gives her advice that encourages her to try to empathize with those who aren’t speaking kindly and gives her great hope for the future.

You can read more about Wil Wheaton’s recent comment in response to the conversation about the video on social networks in this article on Mashable.

We the Geeks

We the Geeks

In the fortuitous way that things seem to often happen in my life, I spent a fabulous Saturday morning with my daughter at a free event designed to spark girls’ interest in all things STEM related, then 24 hours later stumbled across a “Women Role Models” video on We the Geeks that reinforced all of my strong feelings about this topic.

We the Geeks is a series of Google Hangouts sponsored by the White House.  The purpose is “to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation here in the United States. “

In the latest episode, “Women Role Models,” several female guests are interviewed (you can see the guest list below), and give their insight on how to encourage more girls to pursue scientific careers. Many of the guests mention how influential their teachers and teachers were in stimulating their interest in science.  What I heard repeated several times, though, was how important the excitement of the adult mentors can be.  One guest said, “If you have an excited teacher, you’re going to be excited about it.”  Another guest advised that parents should “learn with the kids… stay excited with them.” The latter point is key because, as she pointed out, if parents show that they are intimidated by science and math, that “trickles down” to the children.

Some of the other past episodes of We the Geeks have included: “Celebrating Black History Month,” “Student Startups,” and “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something.”  I haven’t watched any of the other videos, yet, but they all look pretty intriguing.

(Here is a link to a collection of videos to encourage girls in STEM from Amy Borovoy at Edutopia.)

Guests who recently appeared on "Women Role Models" in We the Geeks series

Guests who recently appeared on “Women Role Models” in We the Geeks series

 

My daughter peers through a telescope at the sun during the Girls Inc Science Festival

My daughter peers through a telescope at the sun during the Girls Inc. Science Festival