a young girl holding her toy microphone while singing
3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Language Arts, Student Products

NPR Student Podcast Challenge

Way back in the early 2000’s, I convinced my then-principal to purchase a MacBook for my classroom. Another teacher (shout out to Diane Cullen at Fox Run Elementary!) and I sponsored a media club after school designed for 5th graders who were struggling in their classes. Our goal was to get them excited about school by getting them excited by creating for authentic audiences. Our little group started playing around with Garage Band, and began producing podcasts for the school. Those, along with their iMovie commercials, not only entertained and energized all of us but also helped to build school community. It was probably one of my first experiences seeing how producing something to be heard, seen, or used by others (Design Thinking) can be a powerful motivator.

I had no idea back then how popular podcasts would become. We had no resource materials when we started, fumbling along as we learned on our own. But now there are plenty available, and the tools for production have expanded way past Garage Band. I detailed many of these resources in an article for NEO almost two years ago on “Podcast Pedagogy.” I also recently blogged about “International Podcast Day“, which occurs annually on September 30th of each year. I still think that Smash, Boom, Best is one of the best gateways to podcasting for younger students.

Now I’d like to bring your attention the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. And before you dismiss it because you don’t think your students are ready to enter a contest (submissions are being accepted until April 28, 2023, possibly March 24th according to the Podcast Guide for Students?) or they are not in the age range (grades 5-12), I would still like to recommend taking advantage of the educational resources provided. You can listen to past winners and even a podcast about student podcasting. There are free downloads for teachers and for students that are useful for helping students to prepare, plan for, and produce podcasts. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. In fact, according to the NPR Podcast Guide for Students:

We don’t expect you to be experts. In fact, we expect that most of you are putting a podcast together for the first time.

And even though this is a contest, it’s also about learning new skills in a fun way. We want to make that learning easier — so we’ve put together a guide to help you along the way.

NPR Podcast Guide for Students

It can be daunting as a teacher if you have no experience, but it’s a good opportunity to model a growth mindset and learning along with your students. You could start by giving the option to a small group of advanced students and expand from there, or do one all together with the caveat that I always used, “I have no idea how this is going to go, but I love to learn new things even if it’s from my mistakes, don’t you?” Even if students design podcasts just for practice to begin with, there are so many useful skills students will learn such as researching, summarizing, outlining, and writing for an audience. Podcasts are just one of many great choices to give students when differentiating products so they can demonstrate learning (which my colleague, Amy Chandler, and I will be presenting at TCEA this year), so I encourage you to give it a try!

Link to Downloadable Poster Can Be Found in Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum Guide for Educators
photo of stonehenge london
3-12, Books, Careers, Science

Dig It! Archaeology for Kids

I was recently given the opportunity to review a nonfiction book by Caitlin Sockin, Dig It! Archaeology for Kids. The title is scheduled for release on April 25, 2023, but you can pre-order it now. The recommended reading age window is 10-16, and I feel like that’s absolutely on target. If you teach or parent children in grades 4 and up who have shown the slightest interest in archaeology, this 100 page book will become an indispensable resource for them. Of course, history, geology, and art play big roles in the study of archaeology, so devotees to those topics will also find many rewards when reading this book.

Dig It! Archaeology for Kids, by Caitlin Sockin
image credits: SS/SCStock (background); SS/AD Hunter (mag glass)

Writing nonfiction for kids is an especially challenging task as the author needs to develop a format that will deliver facts while maintaining the reader’s engagement throughout the book. Sockin achieves this by perfectly blending photographs and illustrations with fascinating information that will intrigue even well-read amateur archaeologists. Thoughtfully broken into bite-sized pieces, the material in Dig It! combines details of the work of archaeologists with tantalizing examples of some of the most famous archaeological sites discovered around the world. Readers can digest the book in small sections, or devour it from cover to cover in one session. Unlike a dry textbook, Dig It! is equally rich with both information and entertainment.

Although 10-16 year olds may be the ideal readers of Dig It!, I think adults will also find the book absorbing. Though I’m not an expert on archaeology by any means, I approached reading the sample with the idea that a children’s book about the subject would not teach me many new things — and was delighted to find out that I was wrong. For example, I had no idea that there is a Woodhenge in England in addition to Stonehenge, or that the clues that archaeologists look for include artifacts, features, and ecofacts. (By the way, Dig It! does a good job of explaining new terms in layman’s language on the pages the words first appear, and also has an excellent glossary at the end.)

Throughout the book you will find questions that prompt curiosity and QR codes that can be scanned to visit interactive websites related to archaeology. In addition, there are recommended additional resources that can be done in school or at home, such as science experiments, models, and games. I like the sections that suggest career options for people interested in archaeology and outline why archaeology is important so that readers can envision how something they might currently view as a hobby can actually transform into a meaningful career for them.

image from Dig It! Archaeology for Kids by Caitlin Sockin
image credits: SS/ABCDstock; SS/mehmet.ozer (top L); SS/Everett Collection (top R); @user:VasuVR/WC/CC BY-SA 4.0 / changes made (bottom L); @user:Nomu420/WC/CC BY-SA 3.0/ changes made (bottom R)

How do you get children to enthusiastically read nonfiction books about dusty relics of the past? Ask Caitlin Sockin, because in Dig It! she has cracked the code.

Teachers: Get the free educational guide, created by Deborah Lee Rose, for Dig It! here!

january scrabble
Books, K-12

Coming Up in January, 2023!

I’ve just updated my January/Winter Holidays Wakelet — which means that there are a few more new links you can find and some outdated ones that I’ve deleted. It includes resources for MLK Day, Lunar New Year, and Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust Remembrance Day is a new column that I just added. One of the resources I added to that column is a picture book called, Bartali’s Bicycle. This was one of the Texas Bluebonnet Books for which I had the opportunity to write curriculum for a local school district, and it really made an impression on me when I read it. It is the true story of the heroic Italian cyclist named Gino Bartali, who secretly saved countless lives during World War II. Students will be amazed by his daring and innovation, and you can find a link to a discussion guide on the author’s website.

visit the author’s page here

Also, just a reminder that I’m scheduled to present at TCEA in San Antonio with Amy Chandler (Assistant Director of Gifted and Talented in North East Independent School District) on January 30th, 2023, on Digital Differentiation. We’d love to see you in person!

coming soon on white surface

Top 10 Posts of 2022 and What I’m Planning For 2023

Happy New Year! Someone asked me for my New Year’s Resolution, and I said that I’m not making any — because I truly do try to improve every day. That may sound a bit braggy, but what I actually mean is that I am interested in accomplishing so many things that it’s impossible for me to narrow them down to one goal, or even a few. I’m not really proud of the fact that I can’t focus my curiosity. I even asked Canva’s Magic Write tool to help me come up with a better way to describe this shortcoming, hoping for a more flattering descriptor, but this is what I got:

I kind of like #13, “Jack-of-all-trades, mediocre-at-all,” but, frankly, even that one is a bit generous.

Anyway, I’m doing the standard looking back at the year to see what went well and what direction(s) I should go moving forward. It’s interesting to look at my top 10 posts for 2022. Some of the posts that did well are surprising to me. See what you think:

  1. Fourword Word Ladder Game
  2. Genius Hour Resources
  3. AI Generated Poetry
  4. Name Picker Tools
  5. Getting to Know You Hexagons for Back to School
  6. Blackout Poetry Maker
  7. Let’s Talk About Twos Day
  8. Gifts for the Gifted
  9. Interactive Google Slides Templates
  10. One Pager for Genius Hour in Kindergarten and First Grades

Coming up for 2023 I’ve planned a new self-paced course on Hexagonal Thinking that should be available soon. Based on feedback from workshops I’ve done, this is one of the most useful and flexible tools to elicit deep thinking teachers can use, so seeing that blog post in my top 10 isn’t surprising. In fact, Kelly Hincks recently referenced the post in an article she wrote for the American Library Association about doing Hexagonal Thinking with her students.

I’m also revamping the website to include my own marketplace, where you can download freebies as well as purchase some things I’ve personally designed. The freebies have always been available, but you kind of have to hunt for them on my site, so now they’ll be in one place. (Want to know my most downloaded freebie? Click here to see it!)

I’m also scheduled to present at TCEA in San Antonio with Amy Chandler (Assistant Director of Gifted and Talented in North East Independent School District) on January 30th, 2023, on Digital Differentiation. Come see us at 1:00 that day if you are attending(not sure of the room, yet).

Speaking of North East Independent School District, current teachers will have another opportunity to take the self-paced Genius Hour class we offered last fall for free. Since it was so popular, it’s been arranged to offer it again during the March Super Saturday weekend, and you can earn 4 credit hours! If you are not in NEISD, and would like to take the course on your own, I recommend the Course Bundle I have here. All participants also get invited to our private Genius Hour Facebook Group.

If you want to keep updated on all of these upcoming events and more, be sure you’ve signed up for the weekly newsletter — where you’ll also receive content not posted on the blog and special discounts!

3-12, Creative Thinking, Science

Gifts for the Gifted – Rob Ives Paper Automata

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

So, if you landed on this post in 2022, there are technically two more shopping days until Christmas, 2022. Your options for shipping something in time have grown astronomically risky and/or pricey. And fighting the crowds at a shopping mall holds little interest for you. Maybe you saw yesterday’s post on subscription ideas, but perhaps none of those seemed to fit the bill for the child you have in mind. So, you decided to take your chances by waiting for my last Gifts for the Gifted post of 2022 to be published, hoping this will be the perfect idea.

If you have a decent printer at home, a good supply of cardstock or printer paper, adequate ink, and a few dollars, I just might have an idea for you.

Rob Ives is a paper engineer who has published quite a few books and has a website. His website has tons of projects that you can download and make, including origami and paper automata, which are paper models with moving parts. You could, of course, order one of his cool books. But if you’re worried about getting a gift on time, you might want to purchase one of his downloads for a few dollars instead.

Paying members of the site can download projects for free. (Be sure the currency matches your country by going to the top right of the web page.) Or, you can pay per project that you download. I found a perfect Christmas one that cost me $3.50 for the PDF. It’s the “Hopping Reindeer.” All you need to do is download and print the PDF, and follow the instructions on the “Hopping Reinder” page to make your own festive automata that hop up and down as you turn the paper crank.

Rob Ives Hopping Reindeer Project

Children delight in making these, and it’s definitely an opportunity to bond, as well as to learn about simple machines and physics. There are plenty of other paper-only projects on the site, or you can check out the ones that just need a few other household supplies.

Some other places you can download paper automata (some of them free, but I haven’t vetted them all so be cautious!) are: Canon, Brother, Kamibox, Karakuri Workshop on Etsy, and Mike and Lace.

Have a great time, and see if you can design some of your own!


Gifts for the Gifted – 13 Subscription Ideas

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

If you are reading this post and looking for a 2022 Christmas gift, then it is most likely too late to order something online without paying exorbitant fees to get it delivered on time. In that case, you may want to consider purchasing a subscription, instead — something that will keep on giving throughout next year. Here are some ideas:

Box Subscriptions

  • BitsboxI wrote about this service for students who are interested in coding way back in 2015. My gifted students really enjoyed the free sample we received, and one student convinced his parents to purchase a subscription so he could receive a new box with fun app coding ideas every month. Even my daughter (12 years old at the time) enjoyed playing around with it. If you are gifting a child between the ages of 6-12 who is avid about creating apps, consider one of the many subscription options available here. It is best for children who have access to a device with a keyboard to create the code and a mobile device to test it out.
image from Bitsbox
  • Kiwi Crate — I’m actually gifting this subscription to my 3-year old nephew, but you can find options for children from anywhere between ages 0-12+. Each month includes a box of age-appropriate STEAM based projects delivered to your door. As of this date of this post, Kiwi Crate is offering a discount of $15.95/month for any of their plans using the code, HOLIDAY.
image from Age 5-8 Kiwi Crate

If you are looking for other Box Subscriptions that can appeal to students with interests from reading to cooking, this article from Good Housekeeping has even more great suggestions.

Digital Subscriptions

Prodigy Math Example
  • Storybird — Although my students were using Storybird over 10 years ago, the site has added even more features, such as challenges and classes, since then. With beautiful artwork that students can choose from to create their books, comics, and other forms of written expression, it is an inspiring site for any budding author from elementary to high school. There is even a course on writing for video games. Available for desktop or mobile, you can try it for free before committing. The monthly cost begins at $4.99. Stories can be published online publicly or privately, and you can even pay to print physical books if you love your creation! (See “Book Printing” in the FAQ section here.)

Some other digital subscriptions that may be of interest (but I don’t have experience with them) are: NightZookeeper (another reading/writing app), Outschool (not technically a subscription because you pay per class — but the classes look super fun!), and DIY (an online maker community for kids, which appears to be free as far as I can tell?) You can also visit my article on CoSpaces from 2020.

Magazine Subscriptions

image from video in Brainspace Magazine’s “School of Rap” article
  • National Geographic — There are a “Kids” version and a “Little Kids” version of this magazine. My daughter loved the latter when she was young, and my students found the “Kids” one fascinating in our school library. If your child does not have access to this at school, they will enjoy receiving the 6 issues/year in their mailbox.

I’m very intrigued by the Puzzlemania series from Highlights magazine, but I haven’t reviewed them. I did like Highlights as a kid, but I was more delighted by the Games magazine subscription my mother got for me. However, the latter only has a small puzzle sections for kids, while the rest of the puzzle might be frustrating for children who are not yet in their teens. (I actually get this magazine now, and my 20 year old daughter and I solve puzzles together when we have time.)

This article from Fatherly has even more recommendations for magazine subscriptions. I saw several new-tome suggestions that I would definitely consider if my child was younger, such as: Muse, Chickadee, and Kazoo. You can also check outmy blog post about beanz magazine.

How to Gift a Subscription

Since subscriptions purchased right now won’t make it under the tree in time, you can try printing out a picture of the subscription and wrapping that. To make it even more of an experience, print out this free scavenger hunt that leads to the surprise.

Other Last-Minute Ideas

Speaking of experiences, last year I wrote about gifting these. Also, I linked to some DIY gifts here. And remember that Time with You is always the best gift!

Visit again tomorrow for one more suggestion for 2022!