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.
This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week. This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!
I originally reviewed Disruptus in February of this year. At the time, I was teaching K-5 elementary students in a pull-out gifted and talented program. I am happy to say, now that I have been teaching middle and high school students as well, that this game seems to appeal to players of all ages. Be forewarned, though. In general, the older the player, the more time he or she will need to warm up. Years of being trained to give one right answer has a tendency to discourage wild thinking. But you will notice a subtle shift if you play long enough – as crazy ideas that might have never been voiced begin to appear in the responses.
In a world where we are finally realizing the value of creativity, Disruptus is an excellent way to encourage unique ideas. Whether being played in the classroom or at the family table, Disruptus emboldens participants to turn off their filters of practicality. Players must develop innovative ideas based on the cards that are drawn and the instruction on the cube, and “safe” answers rarely win.
As seasoned readers may know, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of math. (See here, here, or here for some examples.) Now that my job title is S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher, I have been looking even more for ideas on how to integrate math and art.
Math Craft is a great place to start. From mathematical knitting to Sierpinski Christmas trees, there is no shortage of inspiration on this site (though it is a bit heavy on polyhedrons). Not every post gives you instructions, as some of them feature work by professional artists – but you could always pose the question to your students, “How do you think they made this?” They may end up making something completely different, but equally as beautiful, along the way.
Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms. In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year. (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)
After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas. There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning. And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.
During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning. Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.
Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources. From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me. My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”
You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site. Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…
I have students in various grade levels working on design projects this year, and it only seemed right that they would give each other feedback. The 4th and 5th graders were working on designing video games, and the 8th-12th grade engineering students were more than happy to play the games and critique them. My two periods of engineering students are designing a playground for the 4/5 students, so it seemed only fair that the younger students give the older ones input on something that would ultimately impact them. Finally, I had the engineering students give feedback to their contemporaries (in opposite classes).
In the past I’ve used graphic organizers like, “Two Stars and a Wish,” or Glows and Grows, or deBono’s Thinking Hats. The most success I’ve had is using Thinking Hats, but even then the feedback is often vague.
Sonya Terborg recently did a post on a tool called, “The Ladder of Feedback,” and I decided to try it with my older students. It has been, by far, the most successful peer feedback tool that I have seen in the classroom. The steps on the ladder help students to consider a project more deeply, and the sentence stems were perfect prompts for the students to consider at each stage.
Sonya also mentions some other resources in her post, including a Mind/Shift post that has practical suggestions on how to guide your students through the process of crafting meaningful feedback.
If you ever wondered the age that students need to be in order to give constructive feedback to each other, Austin’s Butterfly will show you how even young children, once they have had some practice, can positively influence the outcome of a peer’s project.
One piece of advice from this article on TeachThought that I intend to use the next time we do peer reviews is to give feedback on the feedback. This may also encourage the students to be thoughtful on future critiques – a valuable skill in a school that focuses on Project Based Learning.
One of my colleagues pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Instructables offers free classes on many “makerspace” related topics, such as laser cutting, mold making, and 3d design. I’ve used the site for a few DIY projects, but never knew I could dig deeper with these lessons. I plan to investigate several of these for my own studies, and now I know that I can also refer some of my students to the site, especially if they want to learn more about something I may not have tried yet. It’s a good resource for DIY’ers, educators, and students.
If you really want to take your feedback, reflections, critiques, etc… to a whole new level, you should consider using these IDEO Lifeline Cards. I haven’t used them with my students yet, but just asking myself the questions made me think about my own work differently. The cards are free (and quite beautiful), so download them while you can. Even if the questions are a bit too high level for your particular student age group, applying them to your own life is an intriguing exercise and may give you some insight you have never considered.
Although I believe they were originally designed to help English Language Learners increase their participation, the simplicity of each slide in The Speaking Goal Cards from @TanELLClassroom would be a great way to begin any class period or discussion in which you want to encourage participation. They can prompt students to focus on certain speaking skills, or even help reluctant speakers to create a scaffolded action plan for a semester. Thanks to @TanELL for sharing this on Twitter!