Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.
Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic. “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist. It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons. Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.
Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece. It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance. Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting. The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.
About three years ago, we tried out a tool called, “Flipgrid” for a project that my students were doing for Genius Hour. We were using a trial version and I decided against a paid subscription and I didn’t think I was ready to invest in that at the time. However, I am seeing a lot of features that make Flipgrid a potentially exciting classroom tool. Basically, Flipgrid allows you to create a topic, and other people can add videos to respond to the topic. All of the video responses are collected on one page, which makes it easy to access them. This means that people can reply asynchronously, (as opposed to a Skype interview, for example) which allows for participants from all over the world to add videos when it is convenient in their time zones. For global learning, this can be an invaluable tool.
Recently, Flipgrid started offering a free account. Although it obviously offers less features (you are limited to one grid instead of unlimited, for example), it is still something worth trying. One grid still allows unlimited topics. Another way that you can experience Flipgrid for free is to participate in its “Explorer Series.” In the first edition of this series last October, Flipgrid offered weekly videos from an Antarctic marine biologist along with questions to which students could respond. Flipgrid just launched the second edition, which will be two weeks of posts from Mike Billington of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. The first topic is, “What is a common bird in your community? What can you do to support their environment?” Mike’s first video shows him with a live bald eagle, a site many students don’t get the chance to see. It would be interesting to connect this experience with Beauty and the Beak, and certainly a great way to make the last few weeks of school engaging and educational.
In a recent post by Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the Cult of Pedagogy blog, she gives an incredible list of things to do on “Lame Duck School Days.” You know, like the day after you’ve finished all of your standardized testing for the year, or the two weeks before the end of school when all of your textbooks and sometimes your computers have been collected for “inventory,” or the hour before you go on your final field trip the day before the last day of school.
One of the suggestions given by Jennifer is an “unconference” where, “Using a chunk of hours or a whole day, teachers and students plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (crafts, yoga, cooking, martial arts, music, dance, technology), then sign up for time slots like an EdCamp.”
We have been doing this type of event at our school with our 5th graders this year, and Jennifer’s post reminded me that I owe you an update on its progress. As regular readers may know, I try to give you the good, the bad, and the “please avoid these mistakes if you value your sanity” about projects like this.
First of all, here is the first post that I did in October about our Genius Camp. If you read it, you will see that I gave some precautions along with the positive outcomes at that point. Since that post, all four of our 5th grade classes have each taken a turn “teaching” sessions at Genius Camp. We have now embarked on the 2nd round, which consists of shorter rotations since the students have some experience. Now, each class meets twice before presenting on the third week (before, it was 5 meetings with Genius Camp on the 6th week). The other change that we are making for this round is that the students are being judged using this rubric. The adults who monitor each session are doing the judging, so we can choose some exemplary sessions the students can demonstrate for this year’s 4th graders (who will be leading their own sessions next year).
Some things that haven’t gone well so far (2 homerooms have completed their second round):
Some students are getting silly this time of year, and prefer to generate what they think are humorous ideas, such as (and I promise you someone suggested this), “teaching how to bounce a ping-pong ball into a red cup.” For many reasons, I rejected that proposal… Also rejected, “how to play poker – but we won’t call it that.”
For the first time this whole year, I had two groups who did not bring supplies on time – so the people who selected their sessions had to be placed in other ones at the last minute. Even though every student had originally given 3 choices when filling out their session surveys, many of their choices were full at that point. This resulted in a bunch of students going to sessions that were not interesting to them.
Also for the first time this whole year, I had to exclude some students from participating because they would not stay on task to plan their sessions.
Two students chose to go to a different session than what they were assigned, resulting in behavior issues the student teachers shouldn’t have had to address. (Every student wears a label with name and session title, but these were not checked, unfortunately.)
After some of these experiences, I’ve come close to declaring, “I guess we just can’t have nice things,” and shutting the whole experience down. However, there are some kids – maybe even more than the number of kids who want to sabotage the activity – who seem to actually love participating and teaching the sessions. So, I’m trying to keep these positive moments in the forefront of my mind:
When her teacher came to check on the session one Special Ed. student was leading, the girl who exclaimed proudly, “It’s going so well!!!!” (and it was)
The girls who confided, when they were placed in Football for Beginners due to scheduling snafus, that they “actually learned a few things!”
The boy who wore a suit to teach his session on drawing – and did a fine job
The boy who built a working engine model for the students to try in his group’s session, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Engines,”
The girl who doesn’t like dancing in front of people, but agreed to teach a dance with her partner after I told her that I regret always caring too much about what other people think of my dancing,
The boy who whispered to the adult monitoring his session, “Now I know what teachers go through,” when he kept asking his group to quiet down so they could hear instructions.
My principal, who monitored a session on making video blogs, and allowed his “teacher” to record him doing the mannequin challenge.
I’m pretty sure there are more that I could add to the second list.
It would be so much easier to show movies or give out worksheets during these last weeks of school. But I can’t help thinking that this is the last chance that we have to teach students some important lessons before they move on to middle school. For some of them this might be their chance to show that they are really good at doing something that isn’t academic or to learn that they enjoy being in a leadership role. For others, they may develop more empathy for people who teach – or for people trying to learn something new.
Eric Berlin, author of the Puzzling World of Winston Breen series, has a site called, “Puzzle Your Kids.” The site includes a page where you can download the puzzles from each of his three Winston Breen books, as well as a store page where you can purchase some of his puzzles. A real deal for teachers and parents is the subscription to his puzzle newsletter. For free, you can get a new puzzle in your in-box each Friday. Or, for the $5/month subscription, you can get that plus bonus puzzles. The puzzles are designed for 8 years and up – though some students will need more guidance than others. I got my first puzzle last Friday, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students!
One of the reasons I keep a blog is because I have a horrible memory. It’s nice to go back in time every once in awhile and look at the posts I wrote so I can rediscover some great resources. Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts site is one of those tools. I originally mentioned the site in 2011. Neff takes interesting images or quotes, and creates unusual, thought-provoking prompts for older students. I revisited the site yesterday, and found a prompt that really resonated. I want so much for my students to question and to use critical thinking skills. This prompt may activate some lively discussion in my class – which is what I am aiming for!
For my list of my favorite online writing tools in 2011 (before Google Docs existed!), click here.
Gordon Hamilton is the amazing mind behind one of my favorite math sites, Math Pickle. (For a list of interesting math sites, check out this post.) Numberphile is an awesome YouTube channel for anyone passionate about math. So, when the two collaborate, you know that it is going to be good. “Frog Jumping” is one of Hamilton’s recent math challenges featured on Numberphile. I would definitely invite your students (probably 3rd grade and up) to try each problem he poses throughout the video – pausing for them to make their attempts. As for his final frog-jumping challenge, I may have to take him up on it, although it’s hard to imagine that I could solve something that eludes Gordon Hamilton!
I know that the readers of this blog live in many countries, so I try to write posts that might be applicable no matter where you are. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to learn that many nations celebrate Mother’s Day in May, as does the United States. Here are some lesson ideas to consider that will simultaneously honor mothers as students learn something new.
Mother’s Day Trip (I am considering doing this with my 1st graders, who just researched different countries. It would be funny to make the video sound like the mom just won a roundtrip vacation to the country on a game show or in a sweepstakes!)
Mother’s Day Shopping Spree – Speaking of winning things, a fun math/writing lesson could be to have students “shop” for their mothers online with a budget. They would have to make sure they stay within budget as well as justify each gift they would purchase. I would use one store site (such as Target.com) that offers many types of items, or curate some ahead of time for younger students. Mothers may enjoy seeing what their children would buy for them if money were no (or, almost no) object!