Category Archives: Reading

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 ;)

Diffen

Diffen

Last month, I saw a post about TED-Ed Clubs on Richard Byrne’s blog, Free Technology 4 Teachers.  Hoping to host such a club next year, I applied.  (According to the TED-Ed Clubs site, you may still apply.)

This post isn’t actually about TED-Ed Clubs, since Richard and the TED-Ed site have that pretty well handled.  I thought I would share with you a weekly tip that I got through their newsletter about a site called, “Diffen,” which allows you to compare and contrast two topics.  In their words, “Use Diffen to get your students talking and thinking about the overlaps and differences of various topics, and spark ideas they are passionate about!”

I decided to take a look.

The site is fairly simple.  Just type in a word into each blank, and choose “Go.”  It is certainly not perfect, but can definitely generate some interesting conversations!

My 1st grade class is doing a Mystery Twitter Chat with a class in Illinois today (thanks, Matt Gomez, for inspiring me!), so I thought I would do a comparison of Illinois to Texas.  Here is a partial screen shot of the results:

Diffen

 

It seems fairly objective, so it could be helpful for research.  In fact, according to the site creators, “When you are faced with choices, you are looking for unbiased information. Diffen makes it a goal to clearly delineate facts and opinions. The community keeps content unbiased and fact-oriented. The ratings and comments provide outlets for opinions.”

TED-Ed suggested searching for a comparison between empathy and sympathy.

Empathy

This is actually common question in my classroom, so using Diffen might be a good foundation for that conversation.  

I did some other comparisons that were not quite as fruitful – such as “truth” and “beauty” (this year’s Philosophy Slam topic).

Interestingly, just as on Wikipedia, you can add your own information to the tables. Of course, the source of the information on the site could generate some great discussions in your classroom as well – about the reliability of crowd-sourced reference sites, for example.  

So far I have not seen anything objectionable that appears on the site accidentally.  However, you should definitely check it out for yourself before sending younger students to this resource.  I would probably recommend that you use it for writing or discussion prompts, and that students know that it is essential to use several sources if they are doing research.

 

When Was the Last Time You Saw a Mountain Lion on YOUR Playground?

image from Alba on flickr.com
image from Alba on flickr.com

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2014 in Austin last week was called, “Global Collaboration in Elementary.”  It was presented by Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez), and largely featured Twitter interactions his kindergarten students had experienced with other classes around the world.

That’s right – Kindergarten.

I work with gifted students in K-5, and I have to say that it would not have occurred to me to try using Twitter with my Kinders.  But, then again, I didn’t see a use for Twitter for myself until about nine months ago.

Matt did an outstanding presentation on the value of social media tools like Twitter for students.  (Here is the link to his presentation handout.) By using a private account, and choosing other like-minded educators to follow and be followed on Twitter, Matt connects his students to children in very diverse regions.  Through regular Tweets, the students have learned about their differences and similarities.  For example, one thing that many schools have in common is recess.  And, sometimes children may suffer the crushing disappointment of being forced to endure indoor recess.  But indoor recess in Texas is generally not the result of a mountain lion being loose on the playground, as a class in Montana tweeted to Matt’s students.  Surprising tweets like these have generated interesting conversations.  The experience has promoted tolerance, geographic awareness, and research skills.

Another unexpected side-effect of the Twitter project, as Matt explained, was the development of empathy in the students.  They care about their “Twitter friends”, and are more aware of global events and their effects.  Matt’s school is in Dallas, and they received Tweets from their partners inquiring about their safety, recently, when Dallas was reported to have several tornadoes.

Matt’s class has also connected with experts through Twitter, such as astronaut Chris Hadfield and local weather reporters.  These experiences have also given the students some inside knowledge about careers that they probably would not find in library books.

The nice thing about Twitter is being able to view a stream of responses, as opposed to using e-mail or other written communication.  Also, it does not have to be “real-time”, as Skype or other types of video chats need to be.  You can set aside a time each day to check out the stream as a class and discuss the comments and questions the students may have.  It’s also a good way to summarize your day before the school day ends.

As a result of Matt’s session, I’ve decided that I definitely would like to try this with my first grade class.  In this class, my students are researching different countries, and I would love to have them connect with classes around the world.  If you are a classroom teacher reading this, are interested in joining our classes on Twitter, and live outside of the USA, please contact me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com or @terrieichholz on Twitter to see if we can connect!

UPDATE:  Here is a link from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) with over 270 classes who are active on Twitter and interested in connecting.  You can also fill out the form on this page to add your class to the list!

UPDATE 2:  Here is another link from Kathy Cassidy (via @MattBGomez) of Primary classes that tweet.  For more Twitter resources, check out her page here.

Parallel Poetry

I don’t often repeat lessons from one year to the next.  But this has been one of my favorites to use with my 4th grade GT students during my career.  The only change I made this year was to integrate it with some technology lessons on using Google Drive – specifically the Presentations.

In 4th grade, we read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, which is rich with wonderful examples of figurative language.  It’s truly one of the most poetic pieces of prose that I have ever read, and I delight in the author’s descriptive phrases each year – though I’ve read it over 14 times.

I’m not sure if it’s the age or the GT-ness of my students, but I always have a high percentage of reluctant writers in 4th grade.  The Found/Parallel Poetry lesson on ReadWriteThink, however, seems to bring out the most amazing ideas from nearly every one.

After going over the figurative language in the story (here is one Haiku Deck lesson we did at the beginning to practice), I ask the students to pick one of their favorite paragraphs from the novel.  They write the paragraph, and then I tell them to take it apart – get rid of extraneous words and punctuation.  Then they “move the words” to create lines that have a rhythm.  The result is their “Found” poem.  You can see an example here from the ReadWriteThink site.

Then, it’s time to create a “Parallel” poem.  Mimicking the rhythm of the “Found” poem, but writing about a completely different topic that is relevant to them, the students compose something in their own words.

Here are some of this year’s examples (Click on each slide to enlarge.):

Plane Ride

Allergies

Suspense

Blast Off to Genius Hour!

For many of you, today may be your first day of the new school year.  If so, I hope it’s a great one!  My goal is to make it an unforgettably fabulous year for my students.  In the immortal words of Kid President,

Kid President - Awesome Year

Update:  *As of 1/2/14, you can now download all of my current Genius Hour resources in a bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers for $5.  Or, you can still download them separately (for free) by clicking on the Genius Hour Resource Page

That’s my plan, and one of my strategies for achieving this is to offer Genius Hour to my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade GT students.  (In the past, I’ve only offered it to my 5th graders.)

Over the summer, I developed some new resources to use during Genius Hour.  I’ve already shared some with you, but I just created some more:  Suggested Genius Hour Mission Sequence, Genius Hour Mission Planner, and Genius Hour Mission Log.  Each of these can be found, along with the other resources, on my Genius Hour Resources Page.  You can also find links to explanatory articles and some outstanding resources (that are definitely not mine!) on that page.

Here is a breakdown of the new pieces I just added:

Suggested Genius Hour Mission Sequence – this page is a very abbreviated list of recommendations for the teacher on how to conduct Genius Hour using the resources provided

Genius Hour Mission Planner – this is a planning sheet for students to fill out before each Genius Hour project

Genius Hour Mission Log – this is a reflection sheet to be completed at the end of each Genius Hour

If you’re new to this blog, you don’t want to miss out on the Genius Hour Trailer, Genius Hour Bookmarks (QR Codes), and Challenge Cards (which also include QR codes) – plus a bunch of other supporting materials.

Make this year awesome for your students by including Genius Hour in your lesson plans!  They will never forget it!

partial screen shot of Genius Hour Mission Planner
partial screen shot of Genius Hour Mission Planner

Books for Gifted Kids

I’m not really sure about the title for this post – because I certainly do not think these recommendations apply solely to children who have been identified as Gifted.  However, as a teacher of gifted kids, I know that parents often ask me for ideas on reading material.  After reading Wonder, and commenting about it on yesterday’s post, I thought I would share a few other resources for quality books to which you can direct parents.

NPR just posted a list on August 5th called, “The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf:  100 Must-Reads for Kids 9-14.” The list was created with input from the NPR audience, and includes most of the classics I read as a child.  There are a few new ones, including Wonder, on the list.

For the younger set, the great host of “Not Just Child’s Play” has a couple of posts with lists of book recommendations that you might want to view – “Stories About Real People” and “Books That Celebrate Differences.

Although it is certainly not comprehensive, I have a Pinterest Board of recommendations here.

One book that I would like to mention, in particular, is Heroes for My Daughter by Brad Meltzer.  I bought this book for my own daughter as a gift for her 5th grade graduation.  I took pictures of all of her elementary school teachers and made a collage that looked similar to the inside cover of the book.  Each teacher signed it.  I read a story from this book each night to my daughter before we move on to whatever current chapter book we are reading.  The biographies are short, and usually include a quote that we discuss.  The included heroes are a diverse group – from the Three Stooges to Julia Child, and we both are learning about history as well as admirable attributes that led to positive change in the world.  Meltzer has a similar book, Heroes for My Son, available, as well.

Google “books for gifted” and you will get a plethora of results.  I’ve tried to scale it down for you a bit here as it can be a bit overwhelming!  Hopefully, these links give you some good starting points.

from: http://www.amazon.com/Heroes-My-Son-Brad-Meltzer/dp/B007K4EZNW/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_y
from: http://www.amazon.com/

 

I Wonder if We Could all Be a Bit Kinder

Read this book!
Read this book!

Just like most brains, mine constantly searches for patterns and connections.  Lately, I’ve observed an underlying theme in many of the resources that I’ve been culling for teaching next year – the importance of kindness.

After seeing a book recommendation on several blogs, including one of my favorites, “Not Just Child’s Play,” I finally read it during my recent vacation.  The book is  Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.  It is a novel about a boy who is born with a severe facial deformity.  After years of being home schooled, he and his family make the decision for him to attend school in 5th grade.  The story chronicles his year dealing with ignorant bullies (including students and parents) as well as big-hearted heroes. (Check out the “Choose Kind” Tumblr here.)

I was reminded, near the end of the story, of recent posts on two other blogs, Larry Ferlazzo’s and Sonya Terborg’s, referencing a graduation speech given by George Saunders.  George Saunders, during his speech, says, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

In Wonder, during a graduation speech, one of the main characters offers a quote from J.M. Barrie, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

Those quotes led me back to two other great speeches I have featured on this blog – by Jeff and Mark Bezos.  Mark Bezos, in his simple story about an experience as a volunteer firefighter, gives us this,  “Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody’s life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.”

And Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, gave this powerful quote that I feel is an excellent reminder for my gifted students, “What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”

The question I asked myself (and many of you may also confess to thinking) as I read Wonder and George Saunders’ speech was, “Which one am I – the kind person or the bully?”  The truth is, unfortunately, that most of the time as a child I was the one who did nothing.  In the eyes of some people, that is even worse.

I like to believe that I am stronger than that now.  I like to believe that I model choosing kindness on a regular basis for my students and my own daughter.  I like to believe that I show them that it is not always the easiest decision, but it is the best.

I recommend sharing Wonder with your students.  Have some genuine discussions about the importance – and the difficulty – of bestowing kindness.  Let them share their stories, and, whenever you can, share your own stories about kindnesses you gave, didn’t give, or wish you had received.  The world needs more conversations like these.

Mark Bezos quote