All posts by engagetheirminds

Cup-Stacking Teamwork

I came across this cup-stacking activity from Jaclyn Sepp when I was looking for some ways to help the students work on teamwork.  I did it with 5 different classes of 8th grade students with various levels of success.  (Note to self – don’t have the cups on the table while you are trying to give directions.)  I found that it definitely works better with at least 5 students in a group, and that they love making challenges for other groups once they have completed the first two! (Link at the bottom of her post will take you to the second challenge.)

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The Art of Engineering

There aren’t any fancy graphics on this video, but I love the message that Katie Correll gives in this short presentation.  I keep trying to convince my students that engineering is so much more than math and science, that’s it’s not just about following formulas and rules but about learning how to use them to innovate and sometimes even break those rules.  One of my students pointed out that Katie’s message about thinking outside of the box to problem solve can really apply to anyone – not just engineers.

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Stoke Deck

Stanford’s d.school is one of my go-to resources for anything creative, so I was a bit surprised when I found this particular one completely by accident.  I was looking for unique team-building tools, and “Stoke Deck” popped up.  This free printable has 28 different activities that will help students to “Boost Energy, Create Focus, Get Personal, Nurture Camaraderie, and Communicate Mindsets.”  They are each short exercises that can be used before starting a lesson – or even as a quick break during instruction.  Some of them, like “Blind Disco,”  may require some an established history of trust before you try them.  Others, like “Long Lost Friends,” might be good for introductions.  Almost all of them were new to me, so I can’t wait to try them!

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image from Pixabay

Cartoon Network Projects for Playground Express

If you read last year’s “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, then you may remember that one of my suggestions was Circuit Playground Express.  After publishing the post, I found out that there was an e-book published by Rob Merrill with some fun ideas for different ways to use this product, which is an awesome introduction to development boards.  I added the update to that post, but I found out this week that the Cartoon Network has developed seven new projects to try out with the Circuit Playground Express.  Whether you have a child who received one of these as a gift or you are a teacher who wants to offer more options for ways to learn how to use this product, these tutorials might appeal to you.  In addition, there is a link to a Flipgrid where students can share their own versions of each project.

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Circuit Playground Express shared by Adafruit on Flickr

Unit Planning Game

The amazing @tersonya (Sonya Terborg) shared an incredible tool on Twitter the other day that I think a lot of readers of this blog will like.  It is called, “The Unit Planning Game.” Based on the 17 Global Goals adopted by UN delegates in 2015, “The Unit Planning Game” will help educators and independent learners develop a framework for a project based on interest.

Users are first directed to choose from one of the 17 goals.  For example, I chose, “Gender Equality.”  Next up is the chance to select a “Solutions” card.  Finally, three Standards cards can be designated. (Currently, the standards are fairly generic, in the areas of reading, writing, and math.)

After all of the choices have been made, the user clicks on, “Generate Unit Plan,” and a customized three-stage unit will appear.  It includes an Essential Question  (for my example, the question was, “How might we change perception to make things more equal for boys and girls?”), potential performance assessments, and links to resources.

“The Unit Planning Game” is provided by Participate, and you can get even more ideas from its Project Based Learning page titled, “Teach the Global Goals.”

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Unit Planning Game – a Nice Way to Jumpstart a PBL Unit 

 

The Pencil Problem

In my recent post, “Confessions of a Schadenfraud,” I promised to tell you some stories of my epic failures so far in my new job.  A recent Twitter thread reminded me of a struggle that many teachers have – and I admit that I’ve been kind of “judgey” about it in the past.

 

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Now the first thing, I should say is that, if you have a self-contained class, you probably have a great method that works for you to make sure that students always have the supplies they need.  I’m pretty sure that there is a mathematical formula that shows that the number of disappearing pencils in any given classroom is proportional to the number of students who move in and out of your classroom each day.

In my previous role as a pull-out teacher for gifted and talented students, the solution was simple.  No one brought anything to my class, and no one left with anything.  I provided the supplies, and they stayed there.  There were still a few that got sucked up by a Black Hole, but a few packs of pencils would usually last a month or two.

When I saw the frequent Twitter debates admonishing teachers for being frugal with pencils, I would usually shrug.  “What’s the big deal?  Just give the kid a pencil.  We all forget sometimes.”

No one told me that secondary students eat pencils.

At my new school, the students carry their backpacks everywhere (not my decision).  It does not seem unreasonable to expect that there might be a pencil or two included in the depths of these bags that often include contents like hand sanitizer, multiple earbuds, phones, smelly shoes, Takis, and slime.

Pencils, however, appear to be of low priority in the life of a teenager.

We keep a 3d printed pencil holder in the maker space next to the pencil sharpener.  I think it might hold maybe 24 pencils.  If we fill it at the beginning of the day, they are gone by the last period.

When I say, “gone,” I am including the ones that have been snapped in half and left carelessly on the floor.

Realizing that this was not a sustainable solution, but determined to have pencils available for those who needed them, I searched the web for ideas.  This particular one seemed viable.  I felt like a lot of students were forgetting they had borrowed pencils, and were leaving the room with them accidentally; this could solve that problem.

I  wrote, “Makerspace” on  8 bright orange cards, numbered them, duct taped them to popsicle sticks that I then duct taped to the pencils.

My co-teacher, who has been at the school for a few years, watched this process with amusement.

“You don’t think this is going to work, do you?” I asked.

“It could,” she said, without any conviction whatsoever in her voice.

Whether or not it “worked” depends on your definition of success in this area…

I explained to the students that I was not trying to embarrass them or make them stand out when they borrowed a pencil.  I also said that I knew they weren’t deliberately stealing them when they took them out of the room.  I just wanted the tags to remind them to put them back in the holder before they left.

During the first couple of days, only one pencil completely disappeared.  Though I was somewhat disturbed by the probable deliberate theft of a pencil, I considered this to be an overall victory.

My sense of accomplishment did not last long, however.

My big mistake, apparently, was to render the erasers of these pencils unusable.  Past experience had shown me that pencil erasers lasted even less time than pencils (the students like to pop them off just for fun, among other things) so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to cover them up.  Since most of our writing in the class wasn’t formal, I figured crossing things out would be fine.

Silly me.

“I can’t erase with this pencil,” one student complained.

“That’s okay.  Just cross out your mistake with a line.  No big deal.”

“But I don’t want to cross it out.  I want to erase it.”

“But, as you just pointed out, you can’t use the eraser on that pencil, so crossing it out is the next best thing,” I said.

“I don’t want to just cross it out,” was the stubborn answer.

“I guess you could ask a friend to borrow their eraser,” I suggested.

“That’s too much trouble,” she responded.

“Okay, I’m not sure what you want me to do.  If erasers are that important to you, maybe you could bring one tomorrow.” (As soon as I said that last sentence, I felt guilty.  Stupid Terri, maybe she can’t afford supplies!)

“Oh, I have one.  It’s in my backpack.”

“You. Have. An. Eraser. In. Your. Backpack?” I asked, allowing myself to be swept even further into this no-win conversation.  Her backpack was about 6 feet away from her.

“Yes, I have a pencil with an eraser in my backpack,” she said with obvious frustration at my slowness.  “But I’m not going to go get it.  That’s too much work.”

At this point, I decided this conversation was too much work and that I better go help another student before I lost my mind.

Of course, after the students switched classes that day, I found one of our labeled pencils snapped in half.  Which still didn’t make the eraser accessible, but I guess seemed easier than expressing her righteous anger in a more productive way.

After that, it took about two weeks for the rest of the pencils to disappear or spontaneously fracture into multiple pieces.  Certainly an improvement on our previous record, but disheartening anyway.  To give her credit, my co-worker, said, “They lasted longer than usual, at least,” instead of, “I told you so.”

Now I feel like a true idiot for criticizing teachers who made such a big deal about giving students pencils.  So many of us want to give the students the benefit of the doubt (they just forgot, some of them can’t afford them, etc…) – but we forget to give the teachers the benefit of the doubt.  Most of us aren’t crabby Mrs. Umbridges who expect our students to be perfect.  We walk the line between accommodating them and helping them to become more responsible every day.

By the way, as I explained in my Schadenfraud post, these stories are not meant to elicit sympathy or advice (trust me – I have thoroughly researched ways to solve the case of the evaporating pencils and there is no perfect solution).  My goal is for you to take pleasure in my mistakes, so you can be less judgmental of your own 🙂

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Confessions of a Schadenfraud

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You know you’ve felt it.  I feel it all of the time.  I felt it a few hours ago when I read about how Chrissy Tiegen publicly enlightened Kim Kardashian that she’s a bit late in hitching a ride on the Bird Box bus.  But I don’t know either one of them, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt Kardashian’s feelings that I’m laughing at her.  So, I have no problems admitting that, yes, I am delighted to learn that one of our pop culture icons isn’t completely caught up on pop culture.

But when I feel schadenfreude about friends or co-workers, I feel evil and guilty.  And, because my new job has been particularly challenging these last 6 months, I have been having those feelings a lot.  Probably not as much as I’d like to, if I’m being honest.  Because when I’m not deriving pleasure from the problems of other teachers, I am berating myself for all of my own failures.  And that doesn’t feel too great either.

I try to be honest on the blog for precisely those reasons.  I want to share good ideas so other people can try them, but social media tends to paint an unrealistic picture.  I’ve had people tell me that they admire me or wish they could be even half as good as I am at teaching, and that worries me.  Because I’m really not that great.  The only teachers I’m better than are the ones who don’t care about their students – and that’s a really low percentage despite public perception.

But, like most people, I do have a hard time publicly acknowledging my mistakes.  First, because – IDIOT!  And second, because I am not trying to garner sympathy or advice.  Most of the time, I know exactly what I did wrong and I’m already on a potential road to recovery.

I work with a lot of amazing teachers.  It’s pretty intimidating, to be honest.  But when one of them says, “Oh yeah, I went home crying the other night because of how bad my 3rd period class was,” I don’t just feel schadenfreude.  I feel relief.  And I am not reveling in that person’s pain.  I feel terrible for her.  But I also feel a little less terrible – about my teaching.

But more terrible about myself as a person.

Such is the complicated emotion of schadenfreude.

So, I just want to let you know that I am going to give you the gift of schadenfreude a little bit more often this year. Not because I feel the need to whine or vent.  But because I want to give you the guilt-free opportunity to laugh at my misfortunes and tell yourself, “Hah!  At least I didn’t do that today!”