School-Wide Genius Hour

My days spent at #TCEA16 last week were motivating and extremely inspiring.  This week, I would like to select a few highlights to share with you.  First up, School-Wide Genius Hour.

Several members of the staff of Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Coppell ISD woke me up on Thursday morning with their incredible presentation about student-led EdCamps and Genius Hours at their school.  Not only did the teachers and administrators impress me, but some of the students also participated through Skype and videos, completely winning me over with their heartfelt comments about their school.

One significant “take-away” that I got from this presentation was that Cottonwood Creek offers a school-wide Genius Hour every Friday.  Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big proponent of Genius Hour, and I even offer a page of resources here.  However, we do Genius Hour within my GT classes – meaning that a very small percentage of our school gets the opportunity to participate.  Cottonwood Creek sets aside an hour every Friday for Kinder through fifth to participate in Genius Hour, with students traveling all over the school to work with others of similar interests.

Some of the Genius Hour projects underway include a Culture Corner, gardening, basketball, broadcasting, and more.  The keys to making this successful seem to be a combination of several things: a great emphasis on students as leaders in the school, parental involvement, requiring students to declare a purpose for their Genius Hour time, and reflections after each Genius Hour.

You can access Cottonwood Creek’s presentation here.  The slides include a list of the amazing educators who presented at TCEA and some pictures and video that will convince you that this idea is good for kids!

image from flickr.com
image from flickr.com

#TCEA16

For the next few days I will be attending TCEA in Austin, one of my favorite annual conferences.  I may add some sporadic blog notes, but stay tuned next week for detailed highlights!

 

I <3 My Readers!

Looking for ways to build on the anticipation and excitement your students have for Valentine’s Day?  Here are some of the activities I’ve recommended in past years.

I’m always looking for new ideas, though.  I ran across a couple from fellow bloggers that were posted last year around this time.

Christy at Creative Classroom Tools has these great forced association activities called, “A Very Venn Valentine’s.”  I’m totally using these (free download on TPT!) this year!

Minds in Bloom offers some fun “Would You Rather” questions of the non-mathematical variety.

Valentine’s Day Sudoku – I have some other links to online and printable sudoku puzzles here, but these free printables are particularly well-suited for Kinder and 1st graders.

Hopscotch Hearts – I thought it would be fun for my students to use Hopscotch (the iPad coding app) to make something Valentine-y, and they have been working on their own ideas on and off for a couple of weeks.  (You can see what a few of my 2nd graders have done so far here – most of them haven’t finished, yet.)  Then I saw a tweet from Hopscotch about a new tutorial they just posted to make a “Pixel Art Heart.”  My 3rd graders tried it out yesterday and really liked it.  A few of them finished the code and then started modifying it to make the heart bigger or smaller as well as different colors.  A couple of other students messed up on the code and I loved watching their peers working with them to try to figure out where they went wrong. (Because I had absolutely no idea!)

And finally, how about geeking up your day?  Check out these awesome paper circuit cards made by 7th graders! (You can find Chibitronics LED circuit stickers online, or you can use surface-mount LED’s.  Copper tape and coin cell batteries will help you make the circuits.)  For instructions on making greeting cards, visit this post.

Screen Shot from Hopscotch Pixel Art tutorial
Screen Shot from Hopscotch Pixel Art tutorial

Bloxels

Thanks to my unquenchable Kickstarter addiction, we have a new addition to our classroom called, “Bloxels.”  Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.

Bloxels
image from Bloxels home page

 

OK. Seriously. How DO You Get to Sesame Street?

Today’s Phun Phriday post is a series of adorable videos in which Jimmy Fallon collaborated with the Sesame Street characters.  In this one, Jimmy and the Roots get together with the gang to sing the theme song for the show.  There’s a cool rap added in the middle to make it a bit more 21st century :)

screen shot from Sesame Street Hashtags
screen shot from Sesame Street Hashtags

Maybe, when you were a kid, you got very frustrated by that unanswered question, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”  If so, you’re apparently in good company.  You can see the Sesame Street characters read a tweet about this and some other #WhenIwasaKid tweets on this next video. (By the way, #WhenIwasaKid, I totally believed that people lived inside my television set just so they could perform for me. I couldn’t understand how they all fit.)

Tonight Show Celebrity Photobomb with Sesame Street Characters is my favorite video of the 3.  Jimmy and several other puppets deliberately photobomb some photos of extremely cute youngsters. The photobombs are hilarious, but the reactions of the kids once they find out are particularly priceless.

Have a great Friday!

Hidden Miracles of the Natural World

I am so thankful that my colleague, Suzanne Horan, shared this video this week.  Hidden Miracles of the Natural World is a video of filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s TED Talk in 2014, where he shared some clips from his film, Mysteries of the Unseen World.  The footage serves as an incredible reminder that humans are not alone in this world; we are merely a part of a vast system of living things -many of whom are yet to be discovered.

Assembly

Assembly is an iOS app that is particularly suited for those who like to design with shapes.  This is ideal for me because I never took a drawing class in my life.  In addition, my students have been working with Tinkercad (which is all about combining shapes to create) so I am kind of in that frame of mind.

I decided to try Assembly when I saw a blurb that mentioned it is good for creating logos.  I am even less practiced in graphic design than I am in drawing, but I have been looking for a new “Engage Their Minds” logo, and decided to give it a try.

Assembly is fairly intuitive if you’ve used other design programs. You drag shapes onto the screen, and you can then resize, rotate, move, and change their colors.  Put some shapes forward and others back, reverse the image and/or even group them if you so desire.

The free app includes 180 shapes – but I soon realized I needed more.  After about 5 minutes of using the app I decided to invest in the $11.99-never-have-to-buy-another-pack-of shapes-again option because I hate wondering if I could find the perfect shape if I just purchase one more pack, and then discovering that wasn’t the right pack at all.  I’m probably the company’s ideal customer, a non-artist with Delusions of Dazzling Design skills.

Here is my first attempt at designing a logo.  I created all of the letters in “Engage” and “Minds” using shapes in the Assembly app.  Then I imported the image to Type Drawing so I could stamp the “their” part where I wanted.  My husband, who has some experience with graphic design, actually seemed slightly impressed by my first try.

Photo Jan 26, 4 34 21 PM

 

I have to admit that I had a blast making the logo, even if I don’t end up using it!

Pixite, the maker of the Assembly app, has other creative app options here.  The suite of apps includes a coloring one for those of you who like to administer self-therapy with adult coloring books ;)

 

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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