Category Archives: 3-5

My Brain on Open-Ended Projects

Thanks to some inspiration on Twitter from Jessica Hirsch (@jhirschcusd), I thought it would be a neat idea to have my 4th grade gifted students try to create Makey Makey Operation games with shapes.  (They are on a Geometry unit in their regular classrooms, so this seemed like a good time to try it.)  As my classroom once again became a Disaster Zone Lab of Innovative Thinkers, I realized that I pretty much go through the same thought process every time we embark on these adventures. I tried to make a visual of it, which you can see below.  I ran out of space at the end, so don’t assume that these things always end on a high note…

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We will hopefully complete the project next week, and I will blog more specifics about it.  If you aren’t familiar with Makey Makey, you can see my post from earlier this year about the Onomatopeia Poetry the students created with Scratch and Makey Makey.  And yes, my brain went through the same steps for that one, too!

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Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – beanz

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. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.  And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.

Despite the popularity of mobile devices and computers, I think that children still get a thrill out of getting something from a physical mailbox.  If your child is interested in making video games, reading about new technologies, and learning different programming languages, you may want to consider getting her/him a subscription to beanz, a monthly magazine about “kids, code, and computer science.”

beanz would probably appeal the most to children between 8 and 13 who are avid fans of reading and technology.  However, if you are a parent or teacher who wants to develop a child’s desire to create, this magazine could also be a huge resource for you.  This monthly periodical explains technical topics, such as coding with Python, in a way that any layperson can understand.  It gives a lot of examples, great graphics, and many suggestions for projects that children can do.

To me, it’s not just important for children to learn how to use technology responsibly but also to learn how to maximize technology’s potential for creativity and innovation.  beanz helps to inspire kids to use technology for making things – not just for consuming entertainment.

beanz is available online and as a print magazine.  You can view the latest issue here, but some articles are only available to subscribers. For $29.99/year, you can receive the print magazine and online access.  I think this is a great deal, but if you want to spend a little less you can opt for the $15/year online subscription.

For a unique gift that will delight any creatively “geeky” parent or child, you should definitely consider beanz!

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Empatico

Empatico is a new site that is being developed to match students with other classrooms around the world.  Because the site is beta testing, you will need to give them your contact information in order to gain early access (expected launch in September, 2017). It is designed for students 8-10 years old, and includes two types of activities: “Sparks” – short activities meant to last 3-5 hours, and “Fires” – experiences that last 2-3 weeks.  You can see some examples of activities on this page.  I’m already excited about the “Ways We Play” activity, in which students share the different ways they entertain themselves with a class from another part of the world.  I am always looking for opportunities for my students to connect globally (see our Valentine Project from earlier this year and my Skype resource post), and Empatico looks like a promising free resource that we can utilize!

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Screen Shot from Empatico

FIAT Contest/Celebration

Fish in a Tree, the awesome book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that I reviewed here, has just come out in paperback.  The paperback includes the main character, Ally’s, complete Sketchbook of Impossible Things.  In honor of this, Hunt has launched a nationwide contest for students in 3rd-8th grades to create their own incredibly unique writing or artwork, photos of which must be received by May 12, 2017.  You can find all of the details, including the list of prizes, here.

Also, if you have time, Mrs. Hunt recently did a live webcast for School Library Journal, and I think that you can view the archive by registering here.  My 3rd graders and I watched it today, and found it very inspirational.  Mrs. Hunt talks about her own learning difficulties, the many real-life models for her characters, and how her long-term goals helped to keep her on track.  If you have spoken to your students about growth mindset and grit, then you will find her speech will really resonate with them!

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New in paperback here!

Reef Simulation

My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills.  This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes.  They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world.  I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef.  The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react.  With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.

With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.

Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually.  They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans.  To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.

After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!”  They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…

Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.
Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.

 

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Fish in a Tree

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.

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When a new student entered our 3rd grade gifted and talented class this year a few weeks after we’d begun classes, I thought we might need to spend some time filling her in on what she had missed so far. I was wrong.  Growth mindset, the importance of stretching your brain, systems thinking – she had already covered these topics at her previous school.  One day, we were talking about how, if you don’t learn about how to deal with challenges you might begin to avoid them altogether because you don’t want people to think you aren’t smart and she said, “This reminds me of Fish in a Tree!”  She was so excited about the connection between this library book that she was reading and our discussion that I said, “I would like to read that book, too!”

“There’s extra copies in the library!” she exclaimed!

“Well, let’s all read it, then!” I said, completely caught up in her exuberance and not at all concerned that I had just committed our small class to reading a book that I hadn’t previewed yet and that the “recommender” hadn’t even finished.  We went straight to the library and checked it out.

My student was right.  Fish in a Tree is the perfect supplement to our classroom discussions.  In the story, the main character, Ally, covers up her difficulty with reading.  She eventually finds out, due to a dedicated teacher, that she has dyslexia.  Along the way, she learns that making good friends is more worthwhile than trying to fit in, and that her imagination, perseverance, and courage are truly admirable.

The other young characters in the story, especially the new friends that Ally makes, remind me of many of the students I’ve taught over the years.  Ally’s teacher exemplifies so many of the caring colleagues I have had the honor of working with during my career.

In the book, Ally’s use of figurative language – particularly similes – offers a lot of opportunities for discussion along with great mental images that make the story come to life.Fish in a Tree

If you are a parent, I encourage you to buy this book for your child, and read it together.  If you are a teacher, read it along with your class (and here are some classroom activities to go along with it).  It’s a heartwarming novel that emphasizes kindness, understanding, and individuality.

 

Why Don’t Ants Get Stuck in Traffic?

My students are always fascinated when I have an ant farm in the classroom, and there is a lot to be learned from these insects as we observe their organized frenzy.  Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart” recently published a YouTube video that answers the question, “Why don’t ants get stuck in traffic?”  After watching the video you may second guess your feelings on self-driving cars…