Category Archives: 3-12

Weebly for Education

Google Sites are blocked for our elementary students, so I show my 5th graders the Weebly for Education site if they are interested in designing their own websites. Sometimes students create them for Genius Hour projects.  This year, my students were so excited about the manifestos they created in Canva that I suggested they use the images as launching points for websites that reinforced their core beliefs.

Students seem to understand the Weebly tools very quickly.  In fact, as soon as they see all that they can do, they want to do it all – add images, video, quotes, links, etc… Many of them immediately went home the first day to add to their sites and are super proud to present them.

For this particular project, I asked the students to include their manifestos, along with a page that describes their “Dream Team” – famous people who lived lives that modeled the beliefs in their manifestos.  (They used Academy of Achievement’s “Role Model” tool to help them discover potential Dream Team members.) They could also include inspirational quotes and videos.

Weebly for Education is different from the main Weebly site because the education version allows teachers to have a dashboard of students for free. However, from what I have been able to see, there is no way to view a student’s website through the dashboard until he or she publishes it.  This is a little inconvenient as they are editing, but the benefit of all of the other free features far outweighs this issue.

You can see a screen shot from one of my student’s websites below, and click on the link to visit his site.

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screen shot from “Manifesto Mania” site by Cristian on Weebly for Education 

Hexagonal Reflections

One of the things I wanted to try this year was to ask my students to do hexagonal thinking as they reflected over what they had learned.  Since my 4th graders had already done some hexagonal thinking this year, I thought they might like to experiment with this activity.

First, they visited our class blog where I have been posting pictures from throughout the year.  I showed them how to filter the categories to find all of the blog posts from their class.  Then they chose pictures that were meaningful to them and saved them to their home drives.

After choosing 4-5 pictures, the students signed in to my account on Canva, and created their own blank “A4” projects.  Once the project opened, they were directed to use the search window to find a hexagon frame.  In Canva, frames have a cloud and blue sky in them.

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What I like about frames is that you can drag pictures into them, and they will take the shape of the frame without overlapping.

After the students added a hexagon frame, they resized it and copied it so several could fit on one page.  Once their frames were arranged, they uploaded their pictures and set them in the frames.  Then they used text designs to explain the connections between pictures that shared sides.

You can see a couple of examples below.  They would probably make more sense if you had been in my class this year, but this gives you the general idea.

This went better than my last visual hexagon activity, but I think I will improve it next year by giving a few more guidelines for the “connector” texts so the students will try to find unique parallels that aren’t readily apparent.

For more ideas for end-of-the-year activities, here is a recent post I published.

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Clothesline Math

Chris Shore is quick to note that he did not invent Clothesline Math.  However, he is the author of the Clothesline Math website, and producer of many of the materials on the site, so I think he definitely deserves some credit!

When I first ran across this site, I was a bit dubious of the value of a Clothesline Math activity.  Basically, the teacher gives out a set of number tents to students, who then must hang them on a clothesline (which represents a number line).  However, once I watched Shore’s video explaining how he introduces Clothesline Math, I realized how this seemingly simple activity could really start some incredible math class discussions.  There are many decisions students need to make when they determine what benchmarks to use on the numberline, the order to place their numbers, and the amount of space in between.  Even with a set of 3 fractions (1/2, 1/3, and 1/4), you could take up an entire class period.

Shore provides different sets of printable numbers (from various math disciplines) and an answer document on his site.  Of course you can DIY with your own supplies and number sets based on whatever you are studying in math class at the moment.

I like the idea of students reasoning through this, and having to justify their responses.  It can also be a great visual and kinesthetic activity that will be much more meaningful that choosing from multiple choice answers on a worksheet.

For more intriguing math sites, take a look at 15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.  Let’s get our students excited about math!

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image from: MaxPixel

Faberge Eggs

My 4th grade GT students study masterpieces each year.  The story of the Faberge Eggs, annually created for the last Russian czar’s mother and wife, fascinates all of us – especially when considered in the context of the tragedy that later befell the family.  I use this piece of history to discuss empathy – how Faberge displayed it with every detail of his intricate creations, and how the Romanovs’ lack of this important trait resulted in their demise.

Usually, my students create their own Faberge Eggs, and then design “surprises” to go inside a partner’s egg.  They interview their partners and play different games with them to learn more about them.  Then they have a week to make a design that will be particularly meaningful for the other person.

I have cried over some of the incredibly creative ideas that some students come up with for this project.  One year, a student created a military medal for a student who had a soldier parent fighting overseas. There have been poems, clay objects, a message in a bottle, flags, snowglobes, and so many other little presents.  The students scored each other on how meaningful the gifts were – and many of them made up for themselves in thought what they might have lacked in skill.

This year, egg designing season rolled around a bit later than usual.  Since Mothers Day is just around the corner, I decided to have the students decorate their papier mache eggs for their mothers rather than their peers.  They also created 3d printed surprises to put in each egg.

As generally happens when I try something new, there were some successes and some failures.  Without the interviews and other activities we did in previous years, some of the “surprises” seemed to be less deep than in the past.  (This could also be because of the 3d printing limitation.)  Next year, I think we will need to do a few activities to help the students understand their mothers as people rather than just parents, and I will open the project back up to any hand-made surprise instead of only 3d printed ones.

Here is a link to some other Mothers Day activities in case you are interested.

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Some of the Faberge “surprises” from a couple of years ago.

Some of this year’s Faberge Eggs and “surprises” (in between paint coats)

Genius Hour Alpha Testing

One of the biggest changes I made to our Genius Hour projects this year was to insist that the students do practice presentations for small audiences before they do the “real thing” – kind of like the “Alpha Testing” often used on products before they go on to “Beta Testing” and then full release.  In the past, my students have always given one presentation, and this was the summation of their learning.  After watching Austin’s Butterfly last year, I realized that this was unfair to all of us.  Even though the students were getting peer and teacher feedback throughout the Genius Hour process, their final products were, well, FINAL.  A most of those final products had room for improvement. Some of them had mansions of rooms for improvement…

A few weeks ago, I wrote, “What to do when Genius Hour Sucks,” because some of the practice presentations deeply disappointed me.  Now, many of my students are ready to try again after making revisions based on class feedback, and I’m not feeling defeated anymore.  They really took the suggestions that were made to heart, and have shown great improvement.  A few of them are ready to share with a bigger audience – classmates in their homerooms, students in younger grades, administrators, and parents. Some of them will need to do a third practice, but have still made great strides.

It’s kind of incredible to see students make such an effort – particularly when they are not graded on these projects.  I believe they are motivated by their interests in the topics they chose, and by the knowledge that people outside their usual sphere will be viewing their presentations.  I also believe that our systematic feedback and time for multiple opportunities to practice has made a huge difference.  In school we often tell students what they could have done to improve – and then give them no time to try out those improvements.

Want to see one of the student products?  Here is a Scratch presentation that one of my 4th graders did on sleepwalking.  (She did a verbal introduction to our class, telling a personal story about why this topic was important to her.) Just press the green flag, and you will see what she came up with.  Her product has been Alpha and Beta tested, and is now ready to share with the world!

For more Genius Hour Resources, click here!

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Screenshot from Scratch “Sleepwalking Show” by Olivia O.

Using Video Clips

Sometimes a video is just too long.  Or, maybe only part of the video is really applicable to a lesson.  I recently ran across a couple of options that can help you when you need something short, but powerful, to show your class.

The first option is called, “Class Hook.”  Unfortunately, this site may be blocked in your district. (It is blocked in mine.)  If it isn’t, then you may want to search the site by topic for short clips from all kinds of videos that might make the statement you need.  The library seems to be fairly large.  You can search by subject, show, subject, or grade level. When you choose a clip, it will list Common Core connections.  As always, preview videos before showing them to your class to be certain they are appropriate for the students you teach.

The second option will take a bit more time, but works well for videos you have already found on YouTube if you are using them in Google Slides.  You can copy the YouTube link for the original video, then go to Insert-Video in Google Slides.  Once the video is on a slide, you can then click on “Video Options” to choose the part that you would like to show in your presentation. (If you don’t see “Video Options in your toolbar, click on “More” to display it.)

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If you are not using Google Slides, or it doesn’t seem to be cooperating with you, there is a third option.  One of my students wanted to show part of a TED video for his Genius Hour presentation, and Google Slides would not embed the short clip we kept inserting from YouTube. (When you click on “Share” in YouTube, you can choose an option for where the video should start, but the link generated did not work in Google Slides for us.)  There are, of course, many options for downloading YouTube videos to edit – but quite a few are unreliable, costly, or unsafe for your computer.  I was frustrated with how to help my student – and then I remembered EdPuzzle.

EdPuzzle is a free tool for creating “interactive” videos.  You can assign video clips with questions, record over the video, and keep track of student progress.  You can learn more about EdPuzzle’s features in this nice presentation from Travis K. Wood.  The option that saved a couple of Genius Hour presentations for us this year, though, is that videos can be “cropped.”  You can choose a specific ending and beginning of the video that you have imported, and then share the link of that newly cropped video.  Although Google Slides does not allow for us to actually embed the cropped video into a slide, we can include the link and go directly to the video that imparts the relevant information.

Let me know if you are aware of any other easy way to find and/or create video clips for class!

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Flipgrid Explorer Series: Raptors

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.

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image from Pixabay