Category Archives: 3-12

Visual Hexagons

When I last posted about Hexagonal Learning, I mentioned an article I had seen about using Visual Hexagons, which I was eager to try.  So, as my 4th grade students are beginning a unit on mathematical masterpieces, I thought I would use Visual Hexagons to introduce the topic.

Not my best decision ever.

Here’s what I did wrong:

  • I put together a bunch of images that most of the students could not identify.  This made it difficult for them to figure out how they were connected.
  • I forgot to put a guiding question on the paper.
  • Some of the connections were a bit too abstract.  (I had a picture of a yellow spiral, which I was hoping they would see as a “Golden Spiral,” and that they would relate that to spirals in nature such as the ones on the pinecone picture I included.)
  • Some of the pictures were unrecognizable – such as the aforementioned pinecone which appeared to most of the students to be an orderly collection of rocks or fish scales.

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Did I do anything right?  It depends on what you define as “right.”  And what you define as me doing…

  • I used Canva to make my Visual Hexagons, which made it very simple to pull pictures into the hexagon-shaped image holders.
  • I accidentally printed to the color printer. But that looked better anyway.  So I printed out 4 more.
  • Once the activity got started, I noticed the students were struggling, so I quickly pulled up a backup plan that is a video on Discovery Streaming about nature, math, and beauty.
  • I was trying to decide at what point I should show the video when two men from the district came into the room to replace my wifi – which meant the students couldn’t research on their iPads anymore.
  • I showed the video (effectively damming the stream of students who were now lining up to ask to go to the restroom – a clear sign of a lesson gone awry), which explained nearly all of the pictures and how they related.

As regular readers may note, I generally share things that have worked well in my classroom on this blog, so you can try using those activities as well.  However, I fear that may have given some of you a distorted version of what goes on when I teach.  I have plenty of epic fails.  I like to share the failures that have some sort of potential as long as you avoid all of the pitfalls I seem to have discovered.

Basically, if you learned from reading this that you should always have a backup plan even when you are really excited about a lesson that you are positive will be engaging, I figure my work is done.

But you knew that already, right?

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel.  According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing.  

Here’s how our playlist assignments work:  I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs.  The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song.  Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book.  

A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs.  They never did.  I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one.  They seem happier with the ones I recommend.  2.) If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs.  Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in.  YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand.  Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.

I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts  on their headphones and get started.  The students are intensely focused on the assignment.  Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song.  Others page through their novels as they listen.  I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection.  Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.

My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting.  My 5th graders do it with The Giver.  I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.

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If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy.  Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show them the different levels of responses.

I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well.  Some of them get very attached to the songs!

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating.  If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver.  And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in last year’s post (linked above).  I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections.  My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

tuckhexagons
One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting

Riddikulus Stuff

I am a huge fan of all things Harry Potter. When I was hunting around my Flipboard magazines for this weeks “Frivolous Friday” post, I realized I had “flipped” quite a few Harry Potter items of interest.  So, I’ve curated the recent ones for you.

And, of course, don’t forget to discover your patronus – especially if you plan on spending time near any ampules dementias in the near future…

hogwarts
image from Wikimedia

Anything But Jeopardy

Many of my 4th graders embarked on the “Presentation Planning” stage of their Genius Hour projects this week.  I require their presentations include an interactive portion for the audience.  When they saw “game show” as one of the choices, that became an instant favorite.  The problem with this is that the default game show format for my students always seems to be “Jeopardy.”  There is nothing wrong with Jeopardy, but I’ve been guiding Genius Hour projects for several years, and would like to see a little more variety in this area.

Thankfully, I obsessively save websites to look at later with my Pocket app, and recalled there was a blog post about game shows.  Although the post was written with teachers in mind as the hosts, many of the suggestions in “30 Activities Inspired by Game Shows” are ones that could be used by students.

Another possibility would be to encourage the students to create their own game show format.  You never know who in your class might be the next Merv Griffin!

Jeopardy
image from Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

 

 

The Extraordinaires

At the end of last year, right before Christmas, I saw a tweet about The Extraordinaires.  After visiting the site, I was intrigued by the product and ended up buying one of the smaller sets to try out with my students.  Since my 2nd grade gifted students are studying structures, I chose the “Buildings” set.

All of the products in The Extraordinaires line revolve around Design Thinking.  Each set includes Character cards, Design projects, and Think cards.  The sets also include a drawing pad, and at least one pen.  The Buildings Set includes 6 each of the Character and Design cards and 10 Think cards.  Larger, more expensive sets, contain more cards.

Each of The Extraordinaires Studio projects allows you to choose a character and a design project.  For example, one of my students got the “giant” character and “sports venue,” so his assignment was to dream up a place for his character to play a sport.  You can, of course, mix and match the cards, which makes for interesting combinations.  The think cards can be used to help refine the project and add details.

Fortunately, I only have 5 students in this particular class, so the set I bought is the perfect size.  (Some of the larger sets have higher age recommendations.  The company assured me in a tweet that the 16+ noted on the box “only refers to the guidebook and the depth of content,” so this leads me to believe that the cards would still be fine to use with lower ages.)

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My students were extremely motivated by the Character and Project cards.  The graphics on these definitely generated enthusiasm.  Before passing out the cards, we had talked about empathy.  I emphasized the importance of designing for their “clients” instead of themselves.  For about 20 minutes, there was complete silence in the room as the students got to work.

I had already told the students that this was just the beginning, that they would go through many drafts before settling on final designs.  It’s good I prepared them, because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them about empathy.  As they shared their first drafts, it became clear that they drew buildings that were familiar and just added a few details (like kelp, for the mermaid’s house) to align the structures with the characters.

Fortunately, the website for The Extraordinaires includes some resources for teachers.  We will be using the “Graphic Organizer for Getting to Know an Extraordinaire.”  After all, it’s difficult to have empathy for someone you don’t know.  This is actually all practice for our final semester project, for which they actually will be designing something for someone at our school. (More about that in a future post.)

If you like the idea of teaching Design Thinking to your students, and would like some other resources, Jackie Gerstein has a wonderful collection of design challenges here. For a great free Design Thinking curriculum, City X is another alternative.  To see why you should even consider incorporating Design Thinking into your curriculum, this video from The Extraordinaires allows students to explain. (Be sure to watch all the way to the end if you really want your heartstrings tugged 😉

Play with Design
from “Play with Design”

Play With Design from The Creativity Hub on Vimeo.

outthink hidden

Hidden Figures, a movie recently released about the three African-American women who were instrumental in the John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth, is based on a the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly. By showcasing the contributions made by these women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – virtually unknown names until now – the book and movie remind us that many people who have significantly influenced our history are omitted from the history books because of racism, sexism, and ignorance.

In an attempt to correct this, IBM has created a website devoted to the movie – as well as to revealing other “hidden figures” in the field of S.T.E.M.  The company’s interest is partially due to the fact that it was one of IBM’s early mainframes that aided the women with their calculations.

On the IBM website for Hidden Figures, there is information about the movie and some video clips.  In addition, IBM partnered with the New York Times’ T Brand Studio to create a free interactive augmented reality app that can be downloaded in iTunes or Google Play. According to the site, there are markers at 150 different locations in the United States that you can scan with the app to learn more about amazing S.T.E.M. pioneers who never got due honors for their work.  You can also find markers in the New York Times.  Don’t despair if you don’t subscribe and don’t happen to live near one of 150 sites selected. After downloading the app (“outthink hidden”), visit the IBM site here, and you can scan the marker online.

Within the app you can search for nearby markers, scan, take pictures of the 3d images, and listen to audio about each included figure.  If you are using the online marker, click on the icon in the top right corner to change the figure who appears when you scan it.

If you are interested in more S.T.E.M. inspiration, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations last month was this incredible book by Rachel Ignotofsky.  I also have a S.T.E.M. Pinterest Board.  In addition, if you are looking for more augmented reality activities, here is my collection of educational apps and lessons.

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Bessie Blount Griffin, Inventor & Physical Therapist (scanned with T Brand AR app)