serious girl in protective mask holding plush toy in mask and showing palm against steps
3-12

3d Toy Shop

I’m home sick today, and of course that leads to me mindlessly scrolling through TikTok videos. Between my interests in education and DIY projects, I supposed that it was inevitable that TikTok would eventually recommend a video from 3d Toy Shop (@3dToyShop) owner Nick Hardman. Using his 3d printers, Hardman makes customized stuffed animals for children who have medical conditions. Outfitted with the same urine bags, PEG feeding tubes and dialysis machines, or other lifesaving accessories their young owners themselves wear, these toys are each one-of-a-kind, and give the patients comfort as well as understanding about the care they are receiving.

@3dtoyshop

♬ original sound – 3dtoyshop

I had that instant adrenaline rush that I often get when I see an idea I could use in my classroom (although I no longer have a classroom) because I frequently preach about engaging students with authentic projects, and I can totally see posing this scenario to them to see if they would like to do something similar. This would be an amazing PBL unit or Genius Hour project.

You can find Nick’s website here. He also has a GoFundMe page because this incredible man is not trying to make money from his specialized toys so he formed a nonprofit instead.

image from BBC video about Nick Hardman’s 3d Toy Shop
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 /https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en/No changes made (bottom L); @user:Nomu420/WC/CC BY-SA 3.0/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en/No 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!

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!

3-12, Computer Science, Teaching Tools

Leveraging AI for Learning with ChatGPT or Canva

One of the top 4 most visited posts on my blog this year has been, “AI Generated Poetry.” To say that artificial intelligence attracts interest, no matter the motivation behind that curiosity, would not be an understatement. And, if you’ve been active on social media lately — especially Twitter and TikTok — you will see that there is a new tool out there that will definitely be a major game changer in education. It’s called, “ChatGPT,” and it is for us to decide if it will be our doom or salvation.

ChatGPT is currently free, but you need to sign up to use it. For that reason, I haven’t tried it yet. I like to sit back a little bit and observe the braver pioneers when I hear about something this powerful. Is it too good to be true? How much data will it collect from me? In addition, it turns out I already subscribe to something that includes a tool quite similar to ChatGPT — Canva. (Unfortunately, Canva for Education users do not have this access at the moment, but Twitter conversations seem to reflect that it may be an option in the near future.)

Let’s talk first about what these specific AI tools do (ChatGPT and Canva’s Magic Write option in Canva Docs). They can basically write anything you ask them to, in very coherent but generic language. I’ve seen people demonstrate lesson plans, recipes, and social media content. And when I say, “coherent,” I mean eerily human-like. Here are examples of some of the responses I received from Canva’s Magic Write (my prompts are in bold font):

Example of AI Responses from Canva’s Magic Write Tool in Canva Docs

If you have any Canva Plan other than Canva for Education, you should be able to create a new Canva doc, click on the “+” sign, and choose “Magic Write” to test this out for yourself. You can see a quick demonstration below:

From what I’ve seen demonstrated, ChatGPT has similar abilities. If you go to this page, you can see some of the limitations of ChatGPT, and this one will give you the lowdown on using Canva’s Magic Write.

It’s no wonder that some educators who have seen these tools in action are concerned. ELA teachers are worried their students will utilize the service to respond to essay prompts and even computer science teachers wonder how their students will ever learn to code correctly because — guess what — ChatGPT can find errors in your programming, too.

Like any technology these AI tools can be used for nefarious purposes — or for good. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to teach students the value of ethics and how to evaluate information. Forbidding students to use AI is just going to result in a game of Whack-A-Mole as they keep attempting to outwit us and we keep trying to eradicate the use of AI for “cheating.”

Matt Miller (@JMattMiller) recently published a thread on Twitter that describes 20 ways that you can use ChatGPT to help you “teach/learn”:

For a more in-depth look at ChatGPT, I also recommend Matt’s blog post.

As you can see from Matt’s suggestions, there are ways that AI can make educator’s lives easier, and make learning more interesting. I think that we need to be aware of the limitations and potential abuses, while also taking advantage of the benefits such tools can bring.

3-12, Books, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted — The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids

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.

When I was in the GT Classroom, some of the resources I inherited from the previous teacher were books of “lateral thinking puzzles.” I can’t recall the specific author, but today’s recommendation has similar puzzles and is written specifically for students ages 9-12. Some of the puzzles are definitely suitable for younger, and I have a feeling you could pose others to adults and stump them.

“Lateral thinking” is a term attributed to Edward de Bono, also widely known for his “Six Thinking Hats.” According to de Bono, we use two types of thinking when solving problems — logical or “vertical” thinking and creative or “lateral” thinking. Often a combination of these is needed in order to innovate.

Many riddles/brainteasers have come to be known as lateral thinking puzzles because they challenge you to think beyond the obvious assumptions. Often using puns, words that have multiple meanings, or topics in which we may have unconscious biases, these puzzles often seem impossible until we examine ourselves and try to coax our brain along a new path.

For example, Danielle Hall’s book, The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids, includes a riddle I’ve seen many times with different names substituted, “Alex is Charlie’s brother, but Charlie isn’t Alex’s brother. How is this possible?” The answer is that Charlie is Alex’s sister, but the reason this requires lateral thinking is due to the fact that many think of the name Charlie as predominantly a male name.

You can find this book at Bookshop.org or your favorite independent bookstore.

There are some riddles that I’ve seen before in this book, but many that are new to me. Among the 175 puzzles, you will find some classics like the Riddle of the Sphinx and other more recent creations. Answers are in the back of the book. If you’re a teacher, these riddles are great for transitions and brain breaks. If you’re a parent, they are fun for dinner conversations or car rides. Children will love trying to stump you, and it’s great for the adults to do “think alouds” as they try to solve the riddles in order to model lateral thinking and persistence.

If you’re interested in more brainteasers like these, I have an entire collection here. You might also enjoy this gift recommendation from 2020, Sleuth and Solve. You can also find other book recommendations on my Pinterest board.