Hour of Code 2015

I feel that this post is probably superfluous.  Code.org has done a wonderful job already of promoting this year’s Hour of Code, scheduled for 12/7-12/13.    However, it doesn’t hurt to give this great event more publicity (with the hope that Code.org’s servers can handle all of the extra traffic).

The concept is simple – make sure every student at every level gets to experience an hour of coding next week.  If you’ve never participated in Hour of Code, this may seem to be a daunting task.   Code.org makes it super simple, though.  The Hour of Code site provides step-by-step tutorials for all age levels, many of them with high-interest themes, such as Minecraft, Star Wars, and Frozen, and most of them can be done on any device.  No devices?  No problem. There are “unplugged” activities that can be used for Hour of Code as well.

Why should educators give all students – even elementary students – this experience?  The videos on this page can explain the importance of computer science for our future.  You may have potential Mark Zuckerbergs in your room – or not.  But you definitely have future problem-solvers, collaborators, and innovators.  Coding develops all of these skills, with the added bonus that students have fun while they learn them.

I urge you to give it a try.  I hesitantly took the risk a few years ago, and I’ve been glad I did ever since.  If you still feel reluctant – primarily because you may not feel like you have enough experience – then you might want to look at my Code Dread post from a few weeks ago.  I promise that you don’t have to be Bill Gates to guide students through the Hour of Code.  In fact, inexperienced people have an advantage in this situation because they will avoid the pitfall of helping too much!

For some more programming resources for kids, here is a Pinterest Board of links to websites and products that will help children learn to code.

Hour of Code 2015

A Teacher’s December Survival Kit

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.  Here is an example of a student’s work.  He chose to “Substitute” globes for snow to make an “Earthman.”


These weeks will fly by and probably be quite chaotic – but there’s no reason they can’t be fun, too!

Gifts for the Gifted – Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome

With all of the political shenanigans going on in the world today, it’s comforting to know that we have a completely non-partisan president who is more concerned with dancing than making newspaper headlines – Kid President.

Kid President

If you want to give a gift that will inspire and make its recipient laugh, Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome is the perfect book.

KP's Guide to Being Awesome

I first wrote about this book in April, and I don’t think that I can improve on the ecstatic review I gave it back then.  So, I will direct you to that post for more details.

You could also watch this fun promo video for the book, starring Kid President as himself.

Do yourself a favor if you buy this book, and read it along with the child/ren you choose to favor with this gift.  It will be much more meaningful if it’s shared.

There are a few more pieces of KP merch available here if you are interested in pairing your gift with a shirt or poster.

Want some more gift ideas?  Check out my page of links to all of my past “Gifts for the Gifted” suggestions. 


4 Day Hiatus

Engage Their Minds is taking a 4 day hiatus this week.  We will be back for the weekly Gifts for the Gifted post on Friday, November 27th!  Happy Thanksgiving to my USA readers!


Gifts for the Gifted – Magna-tiles

Around this time of year I post a gift recommendation each Friday as part of a “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  The title is a bit misleading, as it might imply that the gifts are only for children who have been endowed with the label, and that is certainly not true. Just as with any gift, you should select a product that suits the interests of the receiver.  These lists of potential gifts that I provide are ones that I feel will be engaging for children who enjoy problem solving and/or creativity.

I recently did a post about how Magna-tiles are a great addition to a makerspace.  This magnetic building tool is incredibly versatile and fascinates students of all age levels in my elementary school.  I’ve given Magnatiles to young children to play with as I conference with their parents and the older Maker Club students for building challenges.

Just yesterday, some of my 5th graders were trying to add some “flair” to one of their missions in the Wonder League Robotics Competition, and decided Magna-tiles would be the perfect prop to include in the video.

Photo Nov 19, 10 20 48 AM Photo Nov 19, 1 46 45 PM

The first architectural marvel turned out to be a spectacular failure. (I’ll try to share the video later today.)  The second one has potential but needs a bit more programming.

What I’ve learned, though, is that Magna-tiles really encourage children of various ages to use their imaginations – especially when they are collaborating with others.  They can also be combined with other projects.  Try using them with LittleBits (lighting up the clear colored set from within might be a nice challenge) or Legos, for example.  If you do decide to gift them to a young person, remember that it’s important to show interest and give them suggestions.  You can find some Random Building Challenges here.

For more in the Gifts for the Gifted series, check out this page or my Pinterest Board.


Thanksgiving Special

Last year, Colossal did a story on artist Hannah Rothstein’s “Thanksgiving Special” series.  Rothstein imagined the Thanksgiving plates of 10 famous artists.  It would be fun to show students one or two examples, and then have them choose an artist to represent in their own Thanksgiving plate art.  This activity would not only amp up creativity, but also be a lesson in art history and in seeing things from another perspective.  You could also use it to teach about parody.

My favorite piece is the Mondrian.  But, you should definitely check out the others on Colossal or Hannah Rothstein’s website.

Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein
Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein

GoNoodle Plus

I usually post about free resources, but I thought I would make an exception today.  The GoNoodle basic account is free, but all of the schools in our county just received access to the Plus version due to a generous grant.  To be honest, I had never even looked at the Plus version before now.

For those of you who haven’t tried GoNoodle, it’s a great site for promoting movement (also known as brain breaks) during the school day.  A free membership allows you to create classes and gives you access to a huge supply of videos that range from silly to exhausting.  It’s been a popular activity for the last few years in my Kinder, 1st, and 2nd GT classes.

The Plus version of GoNoodle cost $99 per year.  I was perfectly happy with the free version, but I am definitely enjoying the added features in Plus.  The biggest benefit is the option to customize several of the videos to fit your curriculum.

For example, the Mega Math Marathon will help your students practice grade level math fluency as they run in place.  Bodyspell allows you to create customized word lists for the students to spell out with their bodies.  When my 1st graders were learning about the continents on Monday, I was able to create customized multiple choice questions for them to answer while they experienced the Montana James adventure.

With GoNoodle Plus, I think the site will appeal to my older students (3rd, 4th, and 5th) as well.  Getting the opportunity to move around while still learning will be a welcome option for many of them.

Here is more information on GoNoodle Plus in case you are interested.  Also, this is the direct link to the GoNoodle Plus Integration Guide.  GoNoodle offers a 15-day trial if you aren’t sure you have the funds to commit for a year-long subscription.

GoNoodle Plus

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,285 other followers

%d bloggers like this: