Category Archives: Research

The Brain with David Eagleman

My 3rd grade GT students are studying systems – including the brain.  When I received an e-mail about a new series by that name, hosted by David Eagleman, I was intrigued.

The 6 hour television series will begin airing here in the States on October 14th on PBS.  However, you can view some clips from the show ahead of time – and many of them are the perfect length to show younger students (2-3 minutes).

I showed my students “Inside a Child’s Brain” and we all learned something from that short clip. The thought that a two-year old child has more neural connections than any adult is staggering, but reinforced our learning that if we don’t use those paths regularly they will disappear.

We also enjoyed “Brain City.”  Comparing the brain to a thriving metropolis perfectly explains the interdependence of this system, and the difficulty we have isolating any one of its parts.

My short sampling of clips has told me that I am definitely going to enjoy this series!

image from: PBS
image from: PBS

Google Slides Templates (Updated)

This week, I’ve decided to reblog some of my more popular posts with some updates. Since I’ve posted this piece on Google Slides Templates, I’ve found some other resources to add to the list.  You will find most of the updates at the bottom of this post.

Now that our campus has a set of Chromebooks, my students have been delighting in exploring Google Drive.  One tool that has been an asset is the Presentation tool also known as Slides.  Similar to Powerpoint, the Google version has a few advantages in our environment: automatic saving (extremely helpful when the network isn’t always reliable), the rockin’ Research Tool, and the ability to use Google image search within the presentation. Even more importantly, a shared presentation invites collaboration.  I’ve enjoyed having the students work on slides in the same show simultaneously, such as the metaphor presentation I’ve embedded below. (UPDATE: Alice Keeler has a great post on how students can submit work on a collaborative Google Slide Presentation.)

There aren’t a whole lot of themes available in Slides.  But a growing number of templates are popping up online.  You can start with Google, itself, for public presentation templates that are free to download. Another fun resource, though somewhat limited right now, is Slides Carnival.

One of my favorite templates that I’ve run across recently comes from the DavidLeeEdTech blog.  This virtual museum template is so cool!  Scroll down to the comments section on his blog to get the direct link for downloading the template.

from David Lee's Virtual Museum Slides Template
from David Lee’s Virtual Museum Slides Template

Another option is to download a Powerpoint template that you like, and then to import the slides into your Google Drive presentation.

To download most templates, you will need to be signed in to your Google Drive. If the link provided for a template does not give you a direct copy, then you may have a “View Only” version, and will need to make a copy yourself. When applicable, always leave the proper source citations for the template on the slide show, but do whatever other editing you would like once you make a copy.

Tired of the limited fonts available for your Slides Presentation? Check out these instructions for adding more.

And, if you are feeling very enterprising and graphic-designy and would like to make your own template, Alice Keeler has step-by-step instructions for doing just that.

UPDATED 6/22/15:  More Google Slides Templates Resources

Genius Hour Tune-Up

I finished the school year on Friday.  Like many other teachers I know, I am already thinking about what I’d like to do differently next year.  Genius Hour is one area where I really want to add some depth.


I teach Gifted and Talented students from K-5.  I have been doing Genius Hour with 5th graders for over 5 years.  Last year, I added 3rd and 4th grades to the mix.

The progression has been this:

  • 3rd grade comes up with one topic as a class, and each student or pair of students develops a project about that topic. (This year was “Recycling.”)
  • 4th graders come up with individual topics that are meaningful to them, subjects about which they are passionate. (One student loves dogs, and did research on how they pass on their genes.)
  • 5th graders research something that “breaks their heart” – generally in an area that is meaningful to them.  For example, a pair who loved animals did a project on animal abuse.

Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at guiding the students to pin-pointing their research topics.  The presentations have improved in entertainment value.

Where I seem to have faltered is in the research part.

I get the students so jazzed about being able to study something that truly interests them and the freedom to present it in any format they desire, that a few them spend way more time on the “final act” than they do on the learning part.

Next year, I plan to do something radical that I’ve never tried with Genius Hour; I’m going to require all research be completed to my satisfaction before they can even propose the type of presentation they would like to give.

The above idea is probably a no-brainer to most of you, but I really thought that the presentation planning was vital to keeping the students engaged throughout the project.  This may be true, but it also became a real hindrance to quality research.  I was constantly asking students, “But what have you told the class that they didn’t know before?” and “How did you convince us that this was something we should care about?”

This was definitely not their faults.  I need to scaffold the experience more for them.  I also need to give them the opportunity to present more than once, so they can reflect and make it better.

Here is the sequence I am looking at for next year:

  1. Topic Selection and Approval
  2. Review of how to conduct online research and find reliable resources
  3. Locate at least 3 different reliable resources, and use a checklist to verify (possibly have a peer verify as well).
  4. In a Slide Show provided through Google Classroom, students will take notes.  They will identify at least 4 new things that have been learned from the resources, and why people should care. (Possibly using a template like this – but I will probably make it look a bit more exciting.)
  5. During research time, I would like to have students rotate through a center where they can learn about possible creation apps to use for their presentation.
  6. Teacher monitors and makes suggestions.
  7. When finished finding information, students will have a peer edit it, then turn it in to the teacher.
  8. If notes are approved, student may then propose a presentation method.
  9. Prepare presentation.
  10. Present to one peer and revise.
  11. Present to class and revise.
  12. Present to larger audience – possibly parents or other staff members.

I think the revision part is another key element that I’ve been missing.  I spend my time teaching students the mantra from Invent to Learn, “Think, Make, Improve.”  But I frequently forget to give them time for that last part.

Genius Hour has never been perfect, but it has always been valuable.  I feel like just the topic selection part helps the students to learn so much about themselves and what they believe in.

So, I’m not fully satisfied yet.  But I have a lot of ideas for making it better.

If you are interested in more Genius Hour (also called Passion Time or 20% Time) resources, check out this page on my blog.

How about a Game of Foolsball?

The following pics are of creations that students made using our new Makerbot 3D printer.  Mrs. Lackey, our librarian, guided a small “pilot” group of 5th graders through the City X curriculum.  In this curriculum, a story is weaved about a fictional city on another planet that has problems that need to be solved.  The students go through the design process to generate ideas, making prototypes, and printing their creations on the 3D printer.

The first student chose to help develop a new sport that could be played.  He designed, printed, and painted a stadium where “Foolsball” could be played.

PicCollage (2)

In the second example, the student was tasked with developing a way for the city’s animals to stay healthy and receive medical attention if needed. He created a collar that dogs could wear that would monitor the dogs vitals and dispense medicine when needed.

PicCollage (1)

PicCollageThe third student genetically engineered a new animal that has the characteristics of several Earth species. The animal will help to protect the city with its many combined strengths.

Mrs. Lackey and I have been so impressed with the quality of this free curriculum that we plan to expand the program to many more students next school year.

To learn more about 3D Printing in Elementary School, check out this post I recently wrote for Free Tech for Teachers.

Give the Green Light with a Green Screen

“You mean they didn’t really go there?” a student asked me.

She was pointing to a bulletin board of Photo Mapo projects by my 1st graders.  Each student had chosen a Google Street View image of a landmark in the country they were studying.  Using the Green Screen app by DoInk, the students inserted pictures of themselves in front of the landmarks.  They also took video of themselves explaining the landmarks.  The pictures were inserted into Photo Mapo, linked to their videos on Aurasma, and presto – interactive postcards.

Photo Apr 14, 8 52 49 AM

Several of my grade levels have taken advantage of the Green Screen app we purchased this year.  My 2nd graders used it to portray themselves in front of famous bridges around the world, and one chose to use it to make a video about her biomimetic invention.


In yesterday’s post, I showed how word clouds can be fun with the Green Screen app (thanks to Tricia Fuglestad for the idea).

Tricia also gave me the idea for the Time Magazine covers my 5th graders worked on last week.  Here is a link to her post about this project.  For our own versions, my students used Green Screen by DoInk and Canva.

Time Magazine (Some of my students have become so familiar with using the screen that they automatically turn it around to the blue side if a student is wearing green so he or she won’t appear as a disembodied head.

If you want some more green screen ideas, I highly recommend you do a search on Tricia’s Fugleblog.  Don’t have the ability to buy apps? Touchcast is free, though not quite as user friendly for younger students.  No green screen in your classroom?  There are tons of instructions for makeshift screens on the web, including pizza boxes, science boards, sheets, and paint.

Let your students travel to any continent, planet, or even the future with a green screen.


A Few More Reasons to “Conduct” Your Own Genius Hour

During the weekend, I happened to hear two radio interviews with different orchestra conductors that reminded me of the reasons I started to offer Genius Hour in my classroom.

NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with the conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart, about a feature called By Popular by Demand, which allows the audience to use mobile technology to program the second half of the concert they attend.  Here is one excerpt from the interview, spoken by Keith Lockhart:

“People are clapping along, people are singing every word to some of the things that have lyrics to them, and there was just a celebratory spirit. And it really got me – it succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and really got me thinking about maybe one of the elements we’re missing in the live performing arts is this feeling of investment on the part of the audience. Certainly, you know, “Dancing With The Stars,” “The Voice,” “American Idol” – all those have already thought that the way to keep people interested is to give them a voice.”

The way to keep people interested is to give them a voice. Exactly.  This is what Genius Hour is all about.  Even if the teacher does not feel comfortable in surrendering a fifth of the curriculum to the students, that feeling of “investment” Lockhart mentions can still be achieved by offering more choices.

In a separate interview on TED Radio Hour, Guy Raz spoke with Charles Hazelwood, a conductor who has worked with orchestras around the world.  The theme of the show was “Trust and Consequences.” Hazelwood has done a TED talk on “Trusting the Ensemble.”  During his TED talk, Hazelwood quoted a fellow conductor, Sir Colin Davis, who once advised him, “Conducting, Charles, is like holding a small bird in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you crush it. If you hold it too loosely, it flies away.”

I feel that Genius Hour works this way as well.  By giving our students the opportunity to pursue their own interests, we loosen our hold on the small bird.  But we must continue to guide them because allowing them complete freedom before they are ready can have disastrous consequences.

Hazelwood ended his interview with Guy Raz with a piece of advice that truly resonated with me as a teacher.


quote from Charles Hazelwood
quote from Charles Hazelwood

Here is a link to some Genius Hour resources in case you are interested.

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.