Category Archives: 3-12

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)

 

Raspberry Pi

“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi.  I nodded.  Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like.  A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.

I had just returned from Picademy in Austin.  Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them.  They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert.  But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew.  It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.

“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted.  I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft.  They weren’t quite sure.  Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.

“Cool!” was the general consensus.  I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python.  In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.

I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension.  Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom.  But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used.  When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  But I was worried it would be way over my head.  The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.

Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels.  On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies.  We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.

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Raspberry Pi (the green thing) connected to a speaker, keyboard, and mouse.

On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners.  We were given 4 hours and extra supplies.  My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!”  There was a lot of trial and error and frustration.  (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.

If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur.  The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want.  Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.

If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply.  The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses.  All training information can be found here.

An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website.  I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi.  The site is extremely user-friendly.  However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.

A Blocky Christmas

I’ll be adding the “Blocky Christmas Puzzle” to my list of “Logical Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break.”  It’s a fun ABCya page that challenges you to move some blocks around the screen.  I know that doesn’t sound very fun or challenging, but trust me, my description doesn’t really do it justice.  As you move through the levels, new obstacles are added and your own block becomes magnetic – which can be helpful and irritating at the same time.  I love using puzzles like these on the Interactive White Board to talk about Growth Mindset with my students.  They cheer each other on and everyone celebrates when someone solves a particularly difficult level.

I learned about the “Blocky Christmas Puzzle” from Technology Rocks. Seriously.  You can find more holiday interactive by visiting this post by Shannon.  She also has a billion other awesome resources, so you should definitely visit her blog if you haven’t yet.

Blocky Christmas Puzzle
Blocky Christmas Puzzle

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Swish

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.

gifts

When ThinkFun sent me the game Swish to review, I knew right away that it would be a challenge for me.  I have a hard time with spatial reasoning – which is why my students can easily leave me in the dust when we play another spatial reasoning game, Set.

There are several differences between Swish and Set, however.  First of all, Swish is the second game in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series this year that has transparent cards. (See “Anaxi” for the first.)  Although both Set and Swish require you to look closely at the attributes of shapes on the cards and to collect sets that fit certain criteria, the Swish cards’ transparency is strategic because they must be stackable to create winning sets.  You must “swish” all of the ball shapes into matching colored hoop shapes on the cards.  A swish could consist of two cards, but you may be able to combine even more. (Apparently, you can make a swish of up to 12 cards!)

When our family played the game, my daughter had about 5 pairs of swishes before my husband and I could even get our eyes to focus on the cards.  It wasn’t long before she was collecting swishes with 3 or 4 cards stacked on top of each other.  Apparently, she is some kind of 14-year-old Swish Savant who isn’t bothered one bit by humiliatingly crushing the parents who brought her into this world;)  Fortunately, the creators of the game built in a cunning solution to this, which is that you can differentiate for the ability levels of the players.  Foundational players may only need to look for two stackable cards while advanced players can be required to find swishes that contain at least 3 or 4 (or 12!) cards.

Swish is for 2 or more players, ages 8 and up.  Younger players may want to begin with Swish, Jr.  Swish has won numerous toy awards, and is great for home or the classroom.  You can see reviews of more ThinkFun games and others on my Pinterest Board here.

Swish from ThinkFun
Swish from ThinkFun

Tuck Everlasting and the Wheel of Life

On Monday, I wrote about Tarr’s Toolbox and one of the resources you can find there, the “Wheel of Life.”  My 4th graders have been reading Tuck Everlasting (R.I.P. Natalie Babbitt, who died October, 2016), which uses wheels and circles for symbolism throughout the novel.  They have also been discussing the attributes of the main characters, so I thought the “Wheel of Life” would be a fitting activity to try with them.

There are many ways this activity can be done, and Russel Tarr has great suggestions on his blog.  Because it was their first time doing this, I gave the students character traits to copy on their wheel, and deliberately asked them to put them in the same spots on their wheels.  Then I “secretly” assigned each student a character to plot the points for, and told them to hold off on writing the name of the character at the top.  I deliberately assigned the same characters to several students so we could compare their responses later.

When everyone was done, we went around the room and tried to guess the character by how each student’s Wheel of Life looked.  It was almost eerie how easy it was – until we got to one student’s graph.  After several wrong guesses from her classmates, she finally had to reveal her character’s name.

Jaws dropped and there was immediately the beginning of a debate. However, an unexpected interruption happened before we could discuss the varied opinions, making us table our questions until next week’s class.

The conversation associated with this activity is so deep and rich.  I can’t wait to continue it next week.  I also see some other extensions that we can do, such as creating graphs for our own personalities to compare and contrast with the characters in the story.

The experience with this lesson reminded me of the great learning that happened last year when we used Hexagonal Learning to examine our literature.  If you are looking to integrate higher levels of Bloom’s into your lessons, I highly recommend both of these activities.

Click here to go to Russel Tarr's Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable
Click here to go to Russel Tarr’s Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable

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Tarr’s Toolbox

I’ve been a huge fan of Russel Tarr’s ClassTools site for a long time.  I particularly like to use the different graphic organizers he offers and the hexagon generator. (Click here to see how the latter can be used.)  I also follow Russel on Twitter (@RusselTarr).  This weekend, I noticed a neat activity he tweeted about called, “Wheel of Life,” which is an excellent way to analyze characters (both fiction and non-fiction).  When I asked Russel where I could find details, he directed me to Tarr’s Toolbox, a treasure that I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen yet.

Tarr’s Toolbox is Russel’s blog, and gives wonderful ideas for how to engage students in history class – though you can certainly use most of them in other subject areas.  At the top of the home page, there is this nice breakdown of different categories under which you can find key posts.

Categories on Tarr's Toolbox
Categories on Tarr’s Toolbox

Reading the posts makes me want to be in Russel’s class (why didn’t I ever have a history teacher like him?).  Failing that, I at least want to aspire to be as creative and engaging as he must be for his students.

I haven’t read it yet, but Russel just published a book called, A History Teaching Toolboxwhich I imagine is probably another dynamic resource that teachers in any department would find useful.

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Bloxels

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.

gifts

I wrote a review about Bloxels back in February after I received my Kickstarter version and let some second graders test it out.  Here is what I wrote:

“Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.”

image from Bloxels home page
image from Bloxels home page