Math Pickle Revisited

It amazed me to discover yesterday that the last time I posted about Math Pickle was in 2011.  This is a great resource for challenging those mathematical wizards in your class, and I really need to access it more often myself.

“We learn best through hard fun,” is a quote that you will find on the Math Pickle website.  And there are many “hard fun” puzzles and conundrums to bewilder students of all age levels.

If this is your first time visiting Math Pickle, then I would recommend you click on the link for K-12 Video Support.  From there you can click on any grade level or math skill for a grid of suggested activities. Some of the activities are videos, while others include Powerpoint, Keynote, and even PDF worksheets.

My 2nd graders did the “Termite Terrorists” activity yesterday, and I really enjoyed watching them work through some of the puzzles. The included video is meant more to explain the activity to the teacher, but I actually showed the beginning to my students so they could see the lovely introduction that included the disgusting termites;)  This lesson lent itself to differentiation so easily because the students who made it through a puzzle could go on to another one that was a bit more difficult.  Their conversations and strategies were varied and fascinating.  We were amazed by some of the different solutions that could be found for the same problem. Since I actually didn’t look at any answers (and not all are provided), the students had fun trying to “beat” my lowest number on each challenge – and they often did!

Another wonderful resource on the site is the Curricular Puzzle Books link.  It includes free materials for Grades 1-6, and even includes a student-created puzzle book.

There are lots of other areas to explore on the site, including recommended board games.  Gordon Hamilton has done a fabulous service to the education community by providing so many great challenges and resources for free.  You can find out more about the amazing creator of this site, who also happens to be a board game designer, here.  If you can’t get enough hard fun from the Math Pickle website, check out Gordon Hamilton’s Teachers Pay Teachers site for additional puzzles available for purchase.

This I Believe

If you never had a chance to listen to “This I Believe” on NPR, then you have been missing out.  Although the series does not air any longer, you can still access many of the recordings, and there are books available as well.  The best way to describe these personal essays is this paragraph from ThisIBelieve.org: “This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.”

You can find recent recordings from the show here. The appropriateness of the recordings for school depends on the age-level of the children.  I have used pieces of the “This I Believe” high school curriculum originally provided through NPR with my 5th grade GT students.

The other day I bookmarked an intriguing Tweet from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) about a “This I Believe” video created by a student for a class.  I finally had the chance to view it last night, and I was blown away by the message and creativity. The student’s name is Kasey Tamamoto, and her video is definitely appropriate for all age levels.  As soon as I viewed it, I knew it would be the subject of today’s post. There seem to be quite a few of these videos on YouTube.  I haven’t watched them yet, but I bet there are some other exceptional examples as well.

For more inspirational videos for students, visit my Pinterest Board or this post on my top 3 favorites.  I also have a Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers – where Kasey’s video would fit just as well!

When Moreferentiation Requires an Uppervention

The other day, some teachers and I mulled over a relatively new conundrum in the standardized testing world.  If you are going to measure growth in a student’s ability using a standardized test that tests the minimal skills required to pass a grade level, where does this leave the gifted student?  If he or she is already able to do 5th grade math in 3rd grade, then how will we know for the next three years if that student ever learned anything new?  Achieving a 99%ile every year does not necessarily prove growth.  Alternatively, receiving a failing score doesn’t necessarily demonstrate lack of growth; it might prove merely that the gifted student was tired of taking irrelevant tests.

We couldn’t come up with the best, objective way to measure learning growth in this population.  However, we all agreed that when a gifted child genuinely enjoys coming to school, he or she is probably learning.

How can we foster this love of learning so that these students will continue to grow even when minimum standards do not require it?  According to Lisa Van Gemert (@Gifted_Guru), one thing we should not do is moreferentiate. In her article, “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child,” Van Gemert explains “moreferentiation” as giving a child more of the same work.  I know – none of us do that, right?  Well, I will be the first to admit that I have done something just as unhelpful – told them to read a book or asked them to tutor other students.  In fact, when I was a classroom teacher, I was guilty of about 8 out of the 10 things that Van Gemert lists in her article.  Ouch.

So, what can we do for these students?  Josh Work has some suggestions in his recent article for Edutopia, “Uppervention: Meeting the Needs of Gifted and Talented Students.”  I think one of the recommendations that I’ve seen to be the most successful in the classroom is to “Develop Deeper, Not Wider.”  This could be the use of Genius Hour projects or another type of independent research that is based on something that interests the student.

If you are looking for some more ideas, I also wrote a post this year called, “It’s Not Enough,” which outlines some other suggestions for giving gifted students more opportunities to grow.

There is not one right answer for meeting the needs of gifted students.  Every student is unique.  However, there are many wrong answers.  My challenge to all educators is to eradicate the “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child” and find at least one way to inspire all of our students to leap out of bed in joyous anticipation of each day of learning in our classrooms.

Transum Software

Don’t be mislead by the title of this site.  You are not required to download any software, and the math resources here are fun and free.  Although primarily designed for middle and high school students, there seem to be a lot of activities that could be used in upper elementary – and it would be a great site to refer to for extension activities.

The first thing I discovered when exploring the site was the “Starter of the Day” link, which gives a mathematical brain teaser for each day of the month.  Below is the example for today:

Shine + Write has many activities that would be great to use with an interactive white board.  This “True or False” game, for example, takes some thought.  Fun Maths has a page of games and math tricks that will be sure to entertain. Investigations offers challenges that might be good for gifted math students to work on independently.

There are many other links on Transum Software that you may find useful.  If you are looking for a way to make math class more exciting, I highly recommend checking out this site.

It’s Not Enough

You know the one – that student who always finishes first, and appears to have nothing else to do.  Sometimes he or she gets into trouble.  Sometimes, you get tapped on the shoulder, and hear a voice say, “What should I do now?”

You’re busy. There are other children who didn’t understand, who need your help.  So, you fall back on one of the oldies but goodies.  “You can read your book.”  Or, maybe, “Why don’t you go help Jeannie?”

Some students are quite happy to be told to read a book.  Left to their own devices, they would probably read all day.  And some students enjoy helping others.

But not all.

And even if all students were thrilled with those choices, the problem is that those choices do not solve the real problem – which is that they are not learning anything new.

I recently read a blog post that recommended those solutions for gifted children.  It was a well-meaning post, but it infuriated me.  Too many people will read those suggestions and feel that they will be meeting the needs of everyone in their class if they resort to those strategies daily.

As teachers, it is our obligation to make sure that every child in our class learns something new every day.  If we don’t do that, then we are just glorified babysitters with college degrees.

Some people like to justify using  students as peer tutors by saying, “Teaching helps them to learn, too.”  But, if they already knew the topic so well that they could finish in 5 minutes what will take the rest of the class 45 minutes, how much more do they need to learn?  And, if they are not high in social skills, then the student who is being “helped” is at a disadvantage, too. Social skills will not magically improve by forced interactions – particularly if the teacher is not there to give guidance.

As for the book solution, it is useless if there is no specific purpose.  Even if the student is reading a book that would be considered advanced for his or her age, it is just another way to pass the time.  The student might as well be sitting in an armchair at home eating potato chips while he reads Beowulf.

So, what should you do?  There is not one right answer.  But here are some things that I’ve come across in my 24 years of teaching that might be worth trying:

• let students “test” out of units by giving them a pre-test
• assign students an upcoming skill that he or she can learn and then teach the class
• teach units that are open-ended, particularly project-based learning units, and that allow for all students to take the learning as far as their own abilities allow
• allow students to use Khan Academy or other video curriculum to work on advanced units (but integrate this with other collaborative classroom activities)
• give them the answers to a multiple choice assessment, and have them create the questions
• allow them to work on a Genius Hour project (also called Passion Projects or 20% Time)
• use Ian Byrd’s Differentiator (or assign the student to use it) to plan a project
• give students a tic-tac-toe board of choices – but make sure they include rigorous choices, and not just “busy work”

There are entire books written on this topic, and many people who can give great suggestions.  I highly recommend www.byrdseed.com, notjustchildsplay.blogspot.com, and venspired.com for some fabulous online GT resources.

I am passionate about this topic for many reasons.  But the largest reason is that I have regrets.  For many years, I was the teacher who thought it was okay to let students read a book or help someone else when they finished their work.  I can’t tell you the exact moment that I realized that it’s not okay for this to be your entire differentiation toolbox.  But I really wish I could go back and give those “early finishers” the education they deserved.

Flipboard for Educators

Flipboard is an app that is available at Google Play and on the iTunes Store.  It is basically a curation tool, allowing you to collect feeds from the websites, blogs, tweets, etc… that interest you, and saving each as a “magazine” on your device.

I have used Flipboard for awhile, and have done a couple of posts on it, including this one that offered some recommendations of educational sites that could be “flipped.” If your students have tablets, Flipboard can be a valuable learning tool for them.

Recently, Flipboard has added the ability to view your magazines on the web, so it is not even necessary to have the app to read them (though you do need the app to create an account and make your own magazines.)

Flipboard also recently posted an article on its blog called, “Flipboard for Educators.”  It gives many examples of how Flipboard can be useful in the classroom, as well as a few resources. If you are a Flipboard beginner, Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, has a great starter post for you here.

But what I see as really promising about Flipboard is the ability to use it to create your own, specific magazines.  One way to think of it is like taking one of your Pinterest boards and publishing a beautiful e-periodical with pages you can turn on your tablet or computer.

For teachers, this opens a whole new option for differentiation and personalized learning.  You can use the Flipboard bookmarklet on your computer to “flip” any web site into a magazine of your creation.  For example, if I want my students to have a magazine of Current Events news that is tailored toward their age group (rather than send them to a particular news site), I can find articles that relate to them and create a magazine that is a collection of those articles. I currently have 9 of my own magazines, along with the 20 to which I already subscribe.  (One of my public magazines is “Augmented Reality in Education.”)

Students can also create their own magazines, and collaborate on them by inviting each other as contributors.  This might be a great option for a Genius Hour project, or any students who are working together on a research project. Also, if your students are bloggers, it would be great to collect all of their blogs, or posts on specific topics, into one magazine.

The video embedded below gives specific instructions on how to create customized magazines, as well as how to make them public or private.  I found this resource in this article by Adam Renfro, where he also gives advice on other content that would do well in an educational setting. And don’t forget, any of the public magazines can be viewed online as long as you have the link.  This makes it accessible to anyone who has a computer, rather than just students with tablets or smartphones.

The only cautions that I would give teachers who are using this tool are: make sure if you “flip” a web article into a magazine while you are at home that it is not hosted on a site that will be blocked at school, be aware of adding sites to a magazine that may include questionable advertising on the page, and remember that flash-dependent sites cannot be viewed on iDevices.

Let me know if you have an educational Flipboard magazine that you would like to share.  I am always looking for more things to read!

Blast Off to Genius Hour!

For many of you, today may be your first day of the new school year.  If so, I hope it’s a great one!  My goal is to make it an unforgettably fabulous year for my students.  In the immortal words of Kid President,

Update:  *As of 1/2/14, you can now download all of my current Genius Hour resources in a bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers for \$5.  Or, you can still download them separately (for free) by clicking on the Genius Hour Resource Page

That’s my plan, and one of my strategies for achieving this is to offer Genius Hour to my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade GT students.  (In the past, I’ve only offered it to my 5th graders.)

Over the summer, I developed some new resources to use during Genius Hour.  I’ve already shared some with you, but I just created some more:  Suggested Genius Hour Mission Sequence, Genius Hour Mission Planner, and Genius Hour Mission Log.  Each of these can be found, along with the other resources, on my Genius Hour Resources Page.  You can also find links to explanatory articles and some outstanding resources (that are definitely not mine!) on that page.

Here is a breakdown of the new pieces I just added:

Suggested Genius Hour Mission Sequence – this page is a very abbreviated list of recommendations for the teacher on how to conduct Genius Hour using the resources provided

Genius Hour Mission Planner – this is a planning sheet for students to fill out before each Genius Hour project

Genius Hour Mission Log – this is a reflection sheet to be completed at the end of each Genius Hour

If you’re new to this blog, you don’t want to miss out on the Genius Hour Trailer, Genius Hour Bookmarks (QR Codes), and Challenge Cards (which also include QR codes) – plus a bunch of other supporting materials.

Make this year awesome for your students by including Genius Hour in your lesson plans!  They will never forget it!