Category Archives: Teaching Tools

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

 

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 ;)

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.

 

The Roses of Success

Edutopia’s Amy Erin Borovoy (@VideoAmy) recently curated a collection of videos that she titled, “Freedom to Fail Forward.” Always looking for ways to teach my younger students about developing a Growth Mindset, I was pleased to see that her final suggestion was a clip from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang called, “The Roses of Success.”

Here is a sample of the song lyrics:

“Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you’ll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!”

As you can see, the message of the song is to learn from your mistakes and to use those setbacks to help yourself to improve.

image from http://www.idea-sandbox.com/blog/a-flying-car-ashes-dick-van-dyke-and-innovation/
image from http://www.idea-sandbox.com/

Visit Video Amy’s post for this video and other recommendations for learning to “fail forward.”

For more Growth Mindset links, check out this Pinterest Board!

A Growth Mindset for Math Class

No one was more surprised than I was when I won the Honors Geometry medal in high school.  For the first 8 years of school I accepted the incontrovertible fact that I was “not a math person.” Reading and writing came easily to me, and I was often praised in those areas – but math homework often resulted in tears of frustration and papers full of holes from too many erasures.

Everything changed in high school.  My teachers encouraged me and were patient with my questions.  I grew bolder with those questions because I was attending an all-girls school and felt less intimidated by the boys who always dominated math class with their speedy mental math in my early years.

I suddenly realized that I loved math.

Fortunately, that revelation didn’t happen too late.

You can make sure your own students don’t suffer from the same math identity crisis. From @naomiharm I learned there is a website called “youcubed” that is devoted to making everyone a “math person.”  It provides math resources to educators, students and parents. One section is devoted to “Growth Mindset.” If you have no time to browse any other section (though I encourage you to do so), I urge you to download the “Positive Classroom Norms” by Jo Boaler.  These 7 messages are a great way to develop a growth mindset in your math students.

from "Positive Classroom Norms" by Jo Boaler
from “Positive Classroom Norms” by Jo Boaler

If you download the packet, you will receive a page explaining each norm in-depth (some of them include links to videos) as well as a summary page you can post in your classroom.

If this topic interests you, then you might also like to visit my Growth Mindset and/or my STEM Inspiration Pinterest Boards.