Is the pen mightier than the sword? I think you may guess where I side when it comes to that question – but it’s how our students feel that matters to the folks at the Kids Philosophy Slam. Students from K-12 are invited to submit their responses to the prompt by March 10, 2017. You can read about the rules for each category here.
If you are looking for resources on philosophy to use with your students, “Teaching Children Philosophy” may be a great place to start. For this particular topic, you might want to try the “Ethics” page.
It is, of course, impossible to review all of the amazing educational toys out there. My Gifts for the Gifted series is not nearly as expansive as some of the other lists that you can find this time of year. Just in case you don’t find something that you think your child/student/niece/nephew/ would like on my list, here are some others that I plan to use for my own shopping ideas:
I’ve been a huge fan of Russel Tarr’s ClassTools site for a long time. I particularly like to use the different graphic organizers he offers and the hexagon generator. (Click here to see how the latter can be used.) I also follow Russel on Twitter (@RusselTarr). This weekend, I noticed a neat activity he tweeted about called, “Wheel of Life,” which is an excellent way to analyze characters (both fiction and non-fiction). When I asked Russel where I could find details, he directed me to Tarr’s Toolbox, a treasure that I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen yet.
Tarr’s Toolbox is Russel’s blog, and gives wonderful ideas for how to engage students in history class – though you can certainly use most of them in other subject areas. At the top of the home page, there is this nice breakdown of different categories under which you can find key posts.
Reading the posts makes me want to be in Russel’s class (why didn’t I ever have a history teacher like him?). Failing that, I at least want to aspire to be as creative and engaging as he must be for his students.
I haven’t read it yet, but Russel just published a book called, A History Teaching Toolbox, which I imagine is probably another dynamic resource that teachers in any department would find useful.
A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season. I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December. These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child. For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.
“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.”
My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills. This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes. They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world. I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef. The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react. With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.
With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.
Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually. They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans. To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.
After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!” They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…
I think it was three years ago that I signed my classes up for the first time to participate in the Hour of Code. I was determined that year that every grade level I met with during the week (gifted students, 1st-5th) would participate. I’m one of those people who jumps into things without knowing enough to be scared – which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the occasion. In this situation it worked out great. We tried all kinds of programming I have never done before, and we have experimented with many more ever since. There were lots of moments of frustration, but many more moments of excitement.
I don’t have enough knowledge to claim that I am an expert on any of the programming languages. But I am known in some circles as a “techie,” so no one believes me when I say that you can participate in Hour of Code even if you have never coded in your life. When our entire school took the plunge a couple of years ago, there was a lot of trepidation. After that one experience, however, few people blinked an eye about doing it the following year. In fact, many teachers waved off any offers of help from the community or skilled students because they knew that Code.org does an excellent job providing resources for all ability levels.
One of my students once said, “Mrs. Eichholz doesn’t let us use technology. She lets us create with it.” And that is why I love giving students the opportunity to learn how to code. Coding incorporates everything I believe in: collaboration, problem-solving, communication, perseverance, growth mindset, and creativity. Not every student loves it, but every student learns from it and feels empowered with the knowledge.
If you have never participated in Hour of Code before, I am asking you to try it this year. As I often say during presentations, your students are actually at an advantage if you don’t know a lot – because you won’t help them too much. From classrooms equipped with 1-to-1 technology to those that have zero computers, Code.org has you covered with tutorials and resources. And, if you have participated before, note that Code.org has been busy adding new activities so your students can build on what they have already learned.
Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11, 2016, is next week. Hopefully, you can participate in your Hour of Code then. If not, the resources are always available and great to use any time of the year.
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.)