It’s Not Enough

Harry S Truman

You know the one – that student who always finishes first, and appears to have nothing else to do.  Sometimes he or she gets into trouble.  Sometimes, you get tapped on the shoulder, and hear a voice say, “What should I do now?”

You’re busy. There are other children who didn’t understand, who need your help.  So, you fall back on one of the oldies but goodies.  “You can read your book.”  Or, maybe, “Why don’t you go help Jeannie?”

Some students are quite happy to be told to read a book.  Left to their own devices, they would probably read all day.  And some students enjoy helping others.

But not all.

And even if all students were thrilled with those choices, the problem is that those choices do not solve the real problem – which is that they are not learning anything new.

I recently read a blog post that recommended those solutions for gifted children.  It was a well-meaning post, but it infuriated me.  Too many people will read those suggestions and feel that they will be meeting the needs of everyone in their class if they resort to those strategies daily.

As teachers, it is our obligation to make sure that every child in our class learns something new every day.  If we don’t do that, then we are just glorified babysitters with college degrees.

Some people like to justify using  students as peer tutors by saying, “Teaching helps them to learn, too.”  But, if they already knew the topic so well that they could finish in 5 minutes what will take the rest of the class 45 minutes, how much more do they need to learn?  And, if they are not high in social skills, then the student who is being “helped” is at a disadvantage, too. Social skills will not magically improve by forced interactions – particularly if the teacher is not there to give guidance.

As for the book solution, it is useless if there is no specific purpose.  Even if the student is reading a book that would be considered advanced for his or her age, it is just another way to pass the time.  The student might as well be sitting in an armchair at home eating potato chips while he reads Beowulf.

So, what should you do?  There is not one right answer.  But here are some things that I’ve come across in my 24 years of teaching that might be worth trying:

  • let students “test” out of units by giving them a pre-test
  • assign students an upcoming skill that he or she can learn and then teach the class
  • teach units that are open-ended, particularly project-based learning units, and that allow for all students to take the learning as far as their own abilities allow
  • allow students to use Khan Academy or other video curriculum to work on advanced units (but integrate this with other collaborative classroom activities)
  • give them the answers to a multiple choice assessment, and have them create the questions
  • allow them to work on a Genius Hour project (also called Passion Projects or 20% Time)
  • use Ian Byrd’s Differentiator (or assign the student to use it) to plan a project
  • give students a tic-tac-toe board of choices – but make sure they include rigorous choices, and not just “busy work”

There are entire books written on this topic, and many people who can give great suggestions.  I highly recommend www.byrdseed.com, notjustchildsplay.blogspot.com, and venspired.com for some fabulous online GT resources.

I am passionate about this topic for many reasons.  But the largest reason is that I have regrets.  For many years, I was the teacher who thought it was okay to let students read a book or help someone else when they finished their work.  I can’t tell you the exact moment that I realized that it’s not okay for this to be your entire differentiation toolbox.  But I really wish I could go back and give those “early finishers” the education they deserved.

Flipboard for Educators

screenshot of some of my Flipboard magazines

screenshot of some of my Flipboard magazines

Flipboard is an app that is available at Google Play and on the iTunes Store.  It is basically a curation tool, allowing you to collect feeds from the websites, blogs, tweets, etc… that interest you, and saving each as a “magazine” on your device.

I have used Flipboard for awhile, and have done a couple of posts on it, including this one that offered some recommendations of educational sites that could be “flipped.” If your students have tablets, Flipboard can be a valuable learning tool for them.

Recently, Flipboard has added the ability to view your magazines on the web, so it is not even necessary to have the app to read them (though you do need the app to create an account and make your own magazines.)

Flipboard also recently posted an article on its blog called, “Flipboard for Educators.”  It gives many examples of how Flipboard can be useful in the classroom, as well as a few resources. If you are a Flipboard beginner, Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, has a great starter post for you here.

But what I see as really promising about Flipboard is the ability to use it to create your own, specific magazines.  One way to think of it is like taking one of your Pinterest boards and publishing a beautiful e-periodical with pages you can turn on your tablet or computer.

For teachers, this opens a whole new option for differentiation and personalized learning.  You can use the Flipboard bookmarklet on your computer to “flip” any web site into a magazine of your creation.  For example, if I want my students to have a magazine of Current Events news that is tailored toward their age group (rather than send them to a particular news site), I can find articles that relate to them and create a magazine that is a collection of those articles. I currently have 9 of my own magazines, along with the 20 to which I already subscribe.  (One of my public magazines is “Augmented Reality in Education.”)

Students can also create their own magazines, and collaborate on them by inviting each other as contributors.  This might be a great option for a Genius Hour project, or any students who are working together on a research project. Also, if your students are bloggers, it would be great to collect all of their blogs, or posts on specific topics, into one magazine.

The video embedded below gives specific instructions on how to create customized magazines, as well as how to make them public or private.  I found this resource in this article by Adam Renfro, where he also gives advice on other content that would do well in an educational setting. And don’t forget, any of the public magazines can be viewed online as long as you have the link.  This makes it accessible to anyone who has a computer, rather than just students with tablets or smartphones.

The only cautions that I would give teachers who are using this tool are: make sure if you “flip” a web article into a magazine while you are at home that it is not hosted on a site that will be blocked at school, be aware of adding sites to a magazine that may include questionable advertising on the page, and remember that flash-dependent sites cannot be viewed on iDevices.

Let me know if you have an educational Flipboard magazine that you would like to share.  I am always looking for more things to read!

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

Educlipper

Click on your profile pic at the top right of your Educlipper page to see your dashboard.

Click on your profile pic at the top right of your Educlipper page to see your dashboard.

Adam Bellow, the man behind Educlipper,  is now my top Education Rock Star.  The man is amazing, engaging, and generous.  I was fortunate to witness two of his sessions at ISTE this week, and I was inspired to fill two pages of Pages on my my iPad with new ideas for the upcoming school year.

One project that is near and dear to Adam’s heart is Educlipper.  I have seen Educlipper mentioned on several other blogs, but basically dismissed it as a “Pinterest for Education.”  However, I realize now that it is so much more.

This robust tool is free, and Adam assured us that it will always be free.

How is Educlipper different from Pinterest?  Wow.  Let me count the ways:

1.)  As a teacher, you can add classes.   Similar to Edmodo, your students receive group codes that allows them to join your class, and then you can share boards.  This means that you can easily share resources with them, they can create digital portfolios, they can collaborate with each other.

2.)  Educlipper is not limited to images.  Any file format can be “clipped.”

3.)  If you are interested in using Educlipper as a portfolio tool, you might want to know that Adam is currently working on an app that would allow you to take pictures of work and instantly upload it to your board.

4.)  Adam built in an “export” feature so that you can export your boards and never have to worry that your hard work will be lost forever in cyberspace.

5.)  Every single pin offers instant sharing options that include:  Edmodo, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Tumblr, and even an embed code.

6.)  Students do not need to have an e-mail, or any kind of social networking account to join.

7.)  Adam’s “customer service” is amazing.  I e-mailed a question to him last night, and immediately got a response – even though he is probably getting thousands of e-mails after his week at ISTE.

Can you imagine what a great differentiation tool this could be in your classroom?  Or, how wonderful it would work as a digital portfolio?  Or, how it will promote collaboration between students?

I want to thank Adam Bellow for this awesome resource.  I’m only sorry I didn’t check it out sooner!  Help to spread the word about Educlipper by clicking here for a handout, presentation, or video!

My Brainpop

One of the booths I visited at the massive ISTE expo this week was the Brainpop booth.  I got my picture taken with Moby, the famous Brainpop “mascot”, but, trust me, you don’t want to see it.  This one is much better (Moby is on your right):

BrainPOP_Product_Sheet

I haven’t shared a lot about Brainpop on this blog because most of its resources are based on purchasing a subscription.  There is a free app with featured videos that can be viewed, though, and you can get a free 30-day trial.  It also has a fabulous and free “GameUp” section which I have mentioned on this blog, and I still highly recommend it.  The games tie very well into school curriculum.

I think the subscription ($1200/yr. for school-wide access) is well worth it, and I rarely say that about subscriptions.  If you can convince your school, district, or PTA to fund one, I think you will find that it is money well spent.  There is a treasure trove of animated videos that are very engaging for kids, quizzes, accompanying worksheets and activities, and lesson plans for teachers.

The reason I am mentioning all of this today, however, is that Brainpop has an exciting new feature, called My Brainpop,  coming down the pipe later this year  (in time for the 2013-2014 school year), which will allow you to really utilize it for differentiation.  You will be able to add classes, track your students’ progress on quizzes and games, and even personalize your own quizzes.  This is a huge benefit.  Although it does not sound like they will be offering the ability to assign specific videos to different students, I am hoping this feature will be added in the future.

If you have never tried Brainpop, I urge you to check out the free trial.  And, if your school does have a full subscription, you might want to think about how you can use this new feature to your advantage during this upcoming school year!

What Do You Think – How Individualized Should We Make Education?

Recently I’ve run across quite a few articles that seem to give opposing viewpoints about the direction schools should be going in order to improve.  I would like to hear your thoughts on some of these topics.

Big Think recently posted an article called, “IEPS Shouldn’t Be Just About Special Ed.”  The article, by Chris Dawson, advocates the use of technology to differentiate instruction for all students.  The claim is, and to a certain extent it’s true, that only Special Education students have legal documents that specify the type of instruction they should receive.  However, all students should have this right, instead of being lumped into large groups who receive standardized lessons which are often directed towards “the middle.”

As a teacher of gifted students, I hear this observation quite a bit from parents and students.  While I certainly understand the difficulties with the current structure of most schools to make these types of accommodations, technology can definitely get us closer to customizing instruction.  We just need to be careful of the danger of automatizing learning too much. That is why I am a huge advocate of “Genius Hour” and projects like our district’s pilot summer program.  I also support Universal Design for Learning as a means for achieving this goal of creating a learning environment that supports and benefits all types of learners.

Interestingly, I found a comment on Dawson’s article that showed a different perspective.  “The problem with this notion is that life out of schools doesn’t accomodate to us. We accomodate to it. We also risk limiting kids to the things they are already good at. That they already like. Perhaps the Dawson family would enjoy a different brand of pizza on Friday night, or perhaps something altogether different than pizza.”

So, I wonder.  What do you think?  Does designing instruction so that it will raise the bar for every student based on his or her needs and abilities do them a disservice in the “real world?”  All thoughtful comments are appreciated!