Watch Out for Those Pebbles

It’s testing week in our neck of the woods and you can see the stress in the eyes of teachers and students.  It’s difficult to be happy to come to school on days like these.

While going through some of my older posts, I ran across one that I wrote my first year of blogging on the Mini Motivation website.  I had completely forgotten this site existed.  So, I spent 20 minutes refreshing the page to get as much motivation as I could.  Here is one of my favorite quotes that was new to me:

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 9.22.10 PM

If you decide to use the site in your classroom (although you probably can’t do that during testing), I would advise you find a quote first before sharing it with the class on the “big screen.”  It’s possible you may discover one that you don’t find appropriate for your particular audience.

I have more quotations (with prettier graphics) on this Pinterest Board.  And, don’t forget this link to Inspirational Videos for Teachers the next time you need a pick-me-up :)

Canva for Education

I first posted about Canva about 18 months ago when it was in its beta stage.  Since then, this amazing graphic design service has: become a full-fledged website, launched a mobile app, and unveiled its education services (which include sign-in with Google Apps for Education).

I was one of the educators approached by Canva to write some lesson plans utilizing their resources.  (Full disclosure: I was paid for this service.)  You can also find plans from Vicki Davis, Paul Hamilton, Steven Anderson, and William Ferriter.  These plans include many different disciplines and grade levels. In addition, you can access excellent specific graphic design tutorials provided by Canva.

If you are looking for app-smashing ideas for Canva and ThingLink, try these from Lisa Johnson (TechChef4U).  Lisa also explains how to use Canva’s public profile feature in this guest post on Free Technology for Teachers.

One of my favorite things about Canva is how the company has really reached out to educators for suggestions and ideas.  As you will see on their Canva for Education splash page, they have a board of Education Advisors, and I can personally attest that Canva keeps in regular contact with us to find ways they can improve their product.

Canva is free, but it also offers graphics for a fee.  It’s easy to train your students to identify the free images, backgrounds, etc… so their projects don’t end up costing money.  In addition, they can upload their own images, and take advantage of Canva’s free templates to design eye-popping presentations, posters, and collages.

If you have students in elementary school, I recommend that you create one account that your students will all access.  This will allow you to keep track of their projects and, if you are in a school where students share iPads, then this account can stay logged in.

The best way to get started with Canva as a teacher is to open a free account and start using it yourself.  Make blog graphics, picture collages, quote posters for your classroom.  Once you see how easy it is to create something that looks professional, you will come up with your own ideas for ways to integrate it into your classroom.

A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva
A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva

 

Rush Hour Shift

As regular readers may know, my students and I are big fans of ThinkFun games in our classroom.  The logic and problem-solving skills embedded into each one equal the entertainment value, which makes teachers and learners happy.

ThinkFun recently sent us one of their new games to review – Rush Hour Shift.  This name may sound familiar to you.  Rush Hour has been one of the most popular games in my classroom for years.  It’s meant to be a single-player game, though my students usually work in pairs or small groups to solve the increasingly difficult challenges of sliding a car through lanes of traffic to the exit.  The new version, Rush Hour Shift, is a 2-player game – and I predict it will be the new favorite in my classes.

Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun
Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun

In Rush Hour Shift, there are 3 interlocking plates that make up the traffic grid.  Each player is trying to slide their car to the opposite end.  Different challenges direct you on how to set up the “traffic” on the grid before starting.  Each player is dealt a set of cards, and can only make the moves that are on the cards.  These moves include sliding the other cars around or shifting one of the interlocking plates.

My daughter (12) and I tried the game first.  She beat me two out of three times.  (Spatial reasoning has always been one of my weaknesses.)  I was addicted – but I think my daughter was getting frustrated with playing against someone so obviously beneath her level.

Yesterday, three of my 5th grade girls tried the game out.  They had earned the privilege of  “testing” a game and went into the empty classroom next door to play.   The rest of us were trying to solve some wicked sudoku-like math puzzles, and were soon finding ourselves distracted by the uproarious laughter coming from the game-testers.

I peeked in on the girls, and they were having a great time.  They had easily figured out the instructions, and were taking turns playing each other.  When I asked them if they would recommend the game to others, they vigorously agreed.  Jokingly, one of them commented,  “But not if you want to keep your friends!”  Apparently Rush Hour Shift has the ability to spark some friendly competition.

One thing that we all agreed on was the potential for many hours of fun with this game.  For each of the 10 game set-ups given, there are endless ways the game can be played based on the cards that are dealt and the choices each player makes for using them.

We did receive Rush Hour Shift free to review, but I would definitely choose to purchase one for a birthday gift in the future.

If you find this game interesting and would like to see some other products that I have recommended in the past, check out this Pinterest Board.

Worlds of Making

Our school makerspace, B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters), is slowly establishing itself.  To aid in its development I’ve devoured every piece of advice that I can find: blogs, professional development sessions, Twitter chats, and books. At the beginning of this journey I read Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager.  From that book, I learned the power of T.M.I. (Think, Make, Improve), and all of my students and Maker Club members are well-versed in those three steps.

Another well-known pioneer in Maker Education is Laura Fleming (@NMHS_lms), a Library Media Specialist in New Jersey, who has documented the transformation of her library makerspace on her blog.  Laura recently published a book, Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establing a Makerspace for Your School.  The book gives practical advice on getting started on this adventure (or improving it if you have already begun).

Maker Space Essentials - Worlds of Making

Every school is different, and that means, of course, that makerspaces will vary as well.  It might not be the best idea to put your makerspace in the library.  Maybe an empty room or nook would be better.  Or perhaps you would prefer to have “pop-up” makerspaces or mobile carts.  No matter the layout of your space, Worlds of Making will give you many ideas.

Here are a few things that I learned from Laura’s book that I hope to put into practice: include “fixed” and “flexible” stations in your space, invite experts to your space (such as Ron Grosinger, who ran a bicycle repair workshop for her students), and make sure there are plenty of opportunities for students to showcase their work.  (I have been working on this last one, and her book gave me some new ideas.)

My favorite quote from the book?

Maker Movement

If you are interested in joining the Maker Movement, then I highly recommend that you read Worlds of Making.  Just like the creativity and collaboration for which it advocates, it should be an essential element of any library.

For more Makerspace Essentials, check out my series and other resources here.

Please Allow Me to Reiterate

I was feeling pretty clever.

As most of you know, that is never a good sign.

My creative, engaging activity for the day turned out to be one of those lessons that makes a teacher ask the dreaded question, “Should I continue this fiasco or give up and find a video?”

The concept was simple: I wanted to use the idea of Hexagonal Learning with my 3rd graders so they could synthesize what they had learned from our systems thinking book, Billibonk and the Big Itch.  One of the online tools for hexagonal thinking is called Think Link.  This reminded me, of course, of ThingLink.  And I thought, “They can make ThingLinks of their Think Links!”

Technically, the students didn’t use Think Link, though.  Instead I used the Hexagons Generator from ClassTools to print out the hexagons with words that related to the book. The students worked in groups to connect their hexagons in deep and meaningful ways that they could explain in detail using an interactive ThingLink.

Well, that was the plan.

The students quickly arranged their hexagons.  Then they took pictures of the groups and started making their ThingLinks.  They liked the idea of using video to explain each node that connected 2 or 3 hexagons, and started to get creative – using newscaster and professor voices.

Then they started to get a bit silly.

Plus I realized that their connections weren’t exactly deep and meaningful.  And some of them didn’t make any sense at all.

And then 2 groups accidentally lost 45 minutes of work on their iPads.

And the third group finished theirs, but ThingLink stubbornly refused to save it – grimly offering that I could “retry” or “delete” each time I attempted to upload it, but making absolutely no effort to offer the preferred third option, “Start this day over with a little less smugness and a little more planning.”

I looked at my giggly group of grade schoolers and took a deep breath.  Despite having to start their projects over, they were all quite cheerful.  And, the truth was that I had learned a lot from listening to their recordings – a lot that I needed to discuss with them to ensure they understood the text better.

We gathered in a circle and reflected on the day.  We clarified lessons learned.

And we decided to try it all again next week.

Earlier in the day, I had talked about “iterative”  with some of the teachers in the lounge.  We  agreed that it seemed to be quite the education buzzword these days, and I looked it up to make sure I was using it correctly.

This was the first definition I found. (Google’s version)

iterativeNot exactly helpful.

So, without any sense of irony, I looked it up again. (Wikipedia’s verson this time)

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.33.55 PM

Next week, we will attempt iteration #2 of the Hexagonal Learning Lesson.

Hopefully, we will get some things right and all of the mistakes we make will be new ones ;)

White House Science Fair

On Monday, March 23, 2015, the White House hosted it’s fifth annual Science Fair.  You can see some of the participants in the video on this site.  I haven’t been able to watch the whole video, but I enjoyed the segment that starts about 57 minutes in (I just chose a random place to start) where some students describe their experiences with their FIRST Lego League robots to Bill Nye.

White House Science Fair 2015
White House Science Fair 2015

If you visit the site, you can learn all about this year’s exhibitors – which include the 6-year-old darling “Supergirls” FIRST Lego League Team below.  Talk about STEM Inspiration!

The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK
The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK

You can find more coverage of the event here. And if you want some STEM resources, check out this Pinterest Board.

District Twitter Chats

A couple of weeks ago some of the librarians in our district sent out an idea for a district Twitter chat for our students.  They included a great form that we could use for the students to fill out. I had just participated in a professional chat a few days before, hosted by Todd Nesloney, about creating a positive school culture.  In fact, Todd’s recent #EduLS challenge was to celebrate someone. So, the third prompt on the Twitter sheet appealed to me, “Give a Shout Out to a Teacher!”

As the GT teacher, I have students from all grade levels, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for my classes to perform a random act of kindness for potentially every staff member in the school.

My younger students dictated their Tweets to me, while older students wrote their own and then tweeted them from our class account once I approved them.

Knowing that not many teachers follow our class account, I’ve been collecting the Tweets in Storify each day, and mailing the link to the teachers included in that day’s accolades.  All of the students were allowed to choose who got the shout outs, and most of them chose to recognize two or three staff members each.

Twitter Shoutout

I am trying to encourage the students to name something specific they remember about the person, rather than just saying, “You’re nice.”  It’s been gratifying to see that they are happy to include all staff members – not just classroom teachers.

I want to thank Irene Kistler(@IreneKistler) and Sara Romine (@laffinglibrary) for spreading this idea.  I believe Irene is the author of Twitter Paper.  When I asked her if I could share the idea, she pointed me to a very cool website that inspired her.  It is called KidsEdChatNZ, and has fabulous prompts for their New Zealand student participants each week.

It appears that the New Zealand chat happens at a weekly scheduled time.  However, I think that doing this as a “slow chat” was great so that we could get more participants.

If you are interested, you might also want to check out the “S.C.A.M.P.E.R.” Twitter Chat with students that we did in February.

 

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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