Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Powtoon for Educators

I had to search my own blog to find the last time I posted about Powtoon.  It was two years ago!  They have come a long way since then!

Powtoon is a fun way to present, allowing you all kinds of dynamic tools that will keep your viewers engaged.

The company recently launched a major campaign for educators offering free classroom accounts.  These accounts are usually $96/year, and you can add 60 students to your account!  The offer expires on October 31, 2014 – so be sure to activate yours soon!

Powtoon Educator Offer

A lot of resources have been added to the Powtoon library since the last time I reviewed it.  For example, when you go to your Dashboard, and choose to create, you will find that there are many templates that you can use .  These templates are fun; there’s even a “Teacher Intro” one!  I took that one, made a couple of minor changes, and had the one embedded below finished in under 5 minutes.

With all of my talk about creativity this week, Powtoon certainly fits the theme.  Imagine what your students could do with this great tool!

International Dot Day 2014

Yesterday’s post was about making mistakes.  A lot of our students are afraid to try anything because they think they will do it “wrong.” But there are lots of activities that don’t have a right or wrong way to do them.  Sometimes creativity and having fun are important parts of learning, too.

If you are looking for an easy, engaging way to get this message across to your students, try participating in International Dot Day on September 15th, 2014.  Read the fabulous book, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds.  Try one of the fun suggested classroom activities in the Educator’s Handbook.  Connect with someone using Skype in the Classroom. Or try the augmented reality app, ColAR, with the free Dot Day sheet.  Check out this Pinterest board or this one.  And don’t forget to check out the Celebri-dots here!

image from: http://www.coloruswell.com/?p=217
image from: http://www.coloruswell.com/?p=217

The Most Magnificent Thing

Once again, circumstances in my life have neatly meshed together without any conscious effort on my part;)

I have been seeing a book called, The Most Magnificent Thing, touted on many blogs.  Not sure I actually wanted to pay for it, I went ahead and requested my local library to add it to the e-books selection, as it wasn’t currently in their inventory.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

In the meantime, I attended a staff development yesterday during which we discussed a book called, Letting Go of Perfect. It’s about how to help young people deal with perfectionism.

When I checked my e-mail in the afternoon, I had a notice that my requested e-book was available.  I quickly downloaded The Most Magnificent Thing, and realized that the main character definitely has an issue with perfectionism, but finds a great way to cope with it.  This delightful picture book portrays a young girl who has an exact idea in her head of what she wants to make, but can’t quite seem to create a tangible version.  She gets quite frustrated, but gets a little distance from the project and then returns to improve it.

This book fits in so well with the message that I am trying to get across to my students about the importance of having a growth mindset and learning from setbacks.  It is very similar to Rosie Revere, Engineer.  Both of these books appear on a wonderful list posted on the blog, “A Year of Reading,” of Picture Books for Genius Hour.  (I recently added that list to the bottom of my Genius Hour Resources Page.)

Even the author’s biography at the end of the book emphasizes the importance of perseverance!

Author's Bio from The Most Magnificent Thing
Author’s Bio from The Most Magnificent Thing

For more great picture books about “doing your own thing,” check out this post from Joelle Trayers.  Also, Dot Day and the Global Cardboard Challenge are two great opportunities for your students to try to make their own most magnificent things!

TED Radio Hour – Disruptive Leadership

I love listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR.  Each hour has a theme, and includes excerpts from excellent TED Talks that revolve around that topic.  The speakers are interviewed by the host of the show, Guy Raz, and give some great background insight into the TED Talks. One of my favorite shows that I heard this summer was the one on “Disruptive Leadership.”

Now, I’m going to admit that, when I listen to these shows I don’t usually have on my “teacher filter.”  This means that I am so engrossed in the message that I don’t notice if there are any details that might be inappropriate for the classroom.  So, I would definitely recommend you listen to these yourself before playing them for your students.  Or, you can view the transcript that is included with each one.

Drew Dudley, who I mentioned before on this blog in my post about Lollipop Moments, is one of the leaders featured on this particular show.  He has an excellent message about the way we often impact people without realizing it.

One of my favorite stories, though, is the one from General Stanley McChrystal in which he talks about the way leaders deal with failure.

Click here to listen to the interview with General Stanley McChrystal on NPR's TED Talk Radio Hour
Excerpt from transcript of Guy Raz speaking with General McChrystal.  Click here to listen to the interview with General Stanley McChrystal on NPR’s TED Talk Radio Hour

Also featured in this episode are: Sheryl Sandberg, Bunker Roy, and Seth Godin.  All of them are worth a listen, and will make you consider leadership in many different ways!

Grit Pie

In a few past posts, I have mentioned that I am making a determined effort to incorporate a growth mindset into our classroom environment.  One of the attributes that is key to a growth mindset is to have “grit.”  While reading this article on Edutopia, I came across a link for a great Prezi by Kristin Goulet, “Grit Pie,” that would be great to help illustrate this for students.  I love this idea of helping students to realize that blaming others for their problems relinquishes control, and that owning up to their mistakes can actually make them happier with the thought that they have the power to fix them.

Click here to view the "Grit Pie" Prezi by Kristin Goulet
Click here to view the “Grit Pie” Prezi by Kristin Goulet

For more resources about developing a Growth Mindset, you might want to check out my new Pinterest Board for this topic.

Let’s Move It, Move It!

It may seem a bit paradoxical to be staring at a screen while you are trying to get fit, but there are more and more tools available out there to allow you to do just that.  As you begin planning for the new school year, you might want to check out some of these tech resources for encouraging kids (and adults) to take brain breaks.  Multiple studies have shown that these are valuable for both the mind and body.

  • I’ve mentioned GoNoodle on this blog before.  I highly recommend this free online tool for an awesome way to motivate your students as well as track how many minutes they are spending on “moving it.” Erin Klein just did a great post on GoNoodle on her blog, and is offering a t-shirt giveaway, so head on over there if you want more details!
  • This summer, I found out about an extension for the Chrome browser called, appropriately, “Move-It.”  You can set it to remind you at certain intervals to take a little exercise break.  To use the extension, you need to be in the Chrome browser.  Click on this link, the “free” button, and “add.”  A small icon will appear in the top right of your browser.  You can click on that icon to set the time periods for intervals.  At the set time, your browser will open a new tab, and give you instructions for a short exercise.  It’s a nice little reminder – though some teachers may find it annoying to have the pop-ups. (You can easily disable it by getting rid of the checkmark in the window or right-clicking on the icon to manage your extensions.)  I did notice a couple of grammar errors in the pop-ups that might make for a fun editing lesson while you are “moving it.”

Move It

  • Finally, Collin Brooks has come up with a fun way for students to get moving at home by creating augmented reality fitness task cards using the free Daqri app.  I love this idea, and hope you will take a look at the short video on this post where he explains how it works.

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

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. Wednesday’s post was about bringing a Maker Studio to your students.

Before I get deep into this post, I want to emphasize that I am not, by any means, an expert on this topic.  If you look at the bottom of my Genius Hour Resources page, you will find many other far more qualified people to give advice.

Let’s start with the name.  You don’t have to call it Genius Hour. Some call it Passion Time, Wonder Time, or 20% Time.  Don’t get hung up on what it’s called – although you may find more resources on the web by searching for those titles.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/

Also, don’t obsess over the time; it doesn’t have to be an hour or 20% of your total time with your students.  It can be more.  It can be less.

Some teachers worry about the freedom or the departure from the curriculum.  It doesn’t have to be a free-for-all.  You can have guidelines, even particular generalized topics.  For example, if you are studying landforms in science, one student might choose to investigate Pompeii and another might try to design a new vehicle for exploring the interior of volcanoes.

Other teachers are concerned that their students will choose topics that the teacher doesn’t know very much about.  From personal experience, I can tell you that this is actually a gift.  It’s in our nature to help kids too much, but when we can’t, they learn the value of struggling.

The point is to give your students time to pursue something that is of deep interest to them.  It’s about choice and flexibility.  It’s about voice and creativity.  And, it’s about making things relevant for your students so they want to learn and find it meaningful.  Along the way, students learn valuable lessons about research and problem-solving. They learn about grit and the importance of communication.

You can see from the entries in this LiveBinder maintained by Joy Kirr that Genius Hour can happen in any grade level from Kinder-12th, and that there are many ways to do it.

My best advice is to model it and scaffold it.  You will tear your hair out if you just open up by saying, “I want you to pick something you want to learn about and come up with a presentation for the class.” Students usually have no experience with this kind of freedom, and some will have meltdowns just trying to select a topic.  Take a look at my resources and see what would work best for your situation.