Category Archives: 3-5

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.

gifts

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…

Announcing: Undercover Robots Camp

UPDATE 4-3-16:  Session Times have been changed to afternoons to accommodate students who participate in neighborhood swim teams.

Do you live in the San Antonio, TX area?  Do you have a child aged 7-11?  Then this is the camp for you!  I am offering an Undercover Robots Camp this June, 2016.  We will be using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop.  (Robot purchase is not required, but bringing your own can result in a camp discount.)  Here is the link to the registration page.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.14.01 PM

Click here for a PDF version of the above brochure!

Rock, Paper, and Scissors – Can They Be Friends?

The latest “Be Together. Not the Same” video from Android looks at the relationship among Rock, Paper, and Scissors in a completely different way.  What if they actually use their differences to help others out?  The resulting story delivers a cute message about standing up to bullies and embracing your uniqueness.  The music from St. Elmo’s Fire doesn’t hurt, either 😉

In case you haven’t seen last year’s Android video with the same moral, here is a link to that post. (Warning: Cute Overload will ensue!)

Monotune, also by Android, continues on the theme.

If you are searching for Inspirational Videos for Kids, check out my Pinterest Board here.

image from Rock, Paper, Scissors video by Android
image from Rock, Paper, Scissors video by Android

Hopscotch Snowflake Tutorial

One of the apps that I recommend frequently is Hopscotch.  This free iOS app has been one of my all-time favorite creation tools ever since we tried it a few years ago during Hour of Code.  Using block programming that is similar to Scratch, Hopscotch allows users to create works of art, games, and even presentations.  (One of my 5th graders chose to use Hopscotch to present his Genius Hour information last year – much more interesting than PowerPoint!)

Hopscotch offers many tutorials, which are a great way to introduce students to the different coding possibilities in the app.  Earlier this school year, I mentioned that the company just released lesson plans for educators.

If you want to take your students beyond this year’s Hour of Code, you might want to try a Hopscotch tutorial, and then see how they can “remix” it to make it their own.  One that is great for this time of year is the Snowflake Tutorial.  Students can learn about symmetry, angles, and many other mathematical skills while they also obtain basic programming skills.  To top it all off, they can create digital works of art, and every single one will be different.

Hopscotch is an app that my students often mention they use at home on their own, a great example of using technology to create rather than merely to consume.

I would advise walking through any Hopscotch tutorial you assign so you can familiarize yourself with the tools.  Also, beware that earlier tutorials (before 2015) may look a bit different as the app has been updated since then.

For more ideas for using using coding in the classroom, check out my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board here.

from Hopscotch Snowflake Tutorial
from Hopscotch Snowflake Tutorial

Defining Success

As I left the dressing room of a retail clothing store a couple of days ago, a sales associate stopped me.

“I keep looking at you, and thinking I know you,” she said.

“Really? From where?”

“I don’t know.” She thought for a moment.  “What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher.”

She started to look excited.  “Really? What’s your last name?”

“Eichholz.  But it used to be Smith.”

“MISS SMITH!!!!!” she yelled, and ran over to hug me.

She had been my student over 20 years ago, and was thrilled to find out that I am still teaching.

If you had asked me 20 years ago if I would still be teaching now, I would have said, “No!”  Even though I loved teaching (and still do), I always thought I would eventually do something else – something that might make people look at me with admiration instead of pity, something that parents might envision for their children as a potential career instead of telling them that it might be a good “backup” just in case they get injured playing football.

I’ve been thinking about that encounter with my former student for the last three days. Last night, I saw an article about Strayer University’s quest to change the definition of “success.” The article includes a must-see video where people score themselves from a 1-10 on their own success.

The video definitely inspires reflection.  How should we define “success?”

I know how I define success:  When a person’s face lights up when she hears your name 20 years later.

image from: Stockmonkeys.com
image from: Stockmonkeys.com