If you are a teacher of students in grades 3-5 in the US, you might be interested in signing up for The Pen Pal Project sponsored by the United States Postal Service and We are Teachers. Participation is free and each class receives a Pen Pal Project kit. Sign-ups end on December 12, 2021, so be sure to visit the site right away if you want to be included. Although stamps will not be part of the kit, envelopes and stationery will be provided. You can find more information here.
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) on 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 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students.
I actually wanted to recommend Microbit V.2 in my 2020 list, but noted that it was difficult to find it anywhere to purchase in the United States, the location of a majority of my readers. After collecting even more resources for it throughout this year, I was once again eager to include it — but found it to be almost as elusive. However, I dove into locating some stock and I think we may be in luck.
The Microbit is a “pocket-sized computer” with LED’s, buttons, and sensors. The original version has been out a few years, but last year saw the release of version 2, which added audio sensing and a speaker. You can read all about it, and see some examples of cool things you can do with it, here. Many places still sell the first version, so be sure you are getting Microbit V.2 if you want the audio capabilities. This is the page that shows retailers, but I’ll also list a couple at the end of this post who currently have some in stock.
To use your Microbit, you will need a computer (with micro USB cable) or mobile device (with bluetooth). You will create code for it on a device, and then transfer it to the Microbit. Directions for getting started can be found here. A battery pack will be needed if you are using a mobile device, or if you want to use your Microbit away from the computer. That’s why I recommend purchasing the starter pack which includes the cable and battery.
There are several platforms you can use to code Microbit (get a summary here) including Scratch and Make Code. You can also set up a free Microbit classroom if you are an educator. Technically, you don’t even need a Microbit if you are using the Make Code editor, as there is a virtual one for testing out your code, but what fun is that?
Here are some potential places to get a Microbit V.2 as of 11/29/2021:
- Amazon (cable and battery pack included): $38.90, only 12 left in stock
- Walmart (Microbit only, so you would need to purchase a Micro USB cable and batter pack separately): $40.79 + shipping is kind of a high price, to be honest, but the result of supply and demand at the moment, unfortunately.
- PiShop.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $25.95 + shipping, which I think is $18 for the US based on this page
- Elmwood Electronics.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $21.87 + shipping. The extremely helpful customer service rep, Stewart, told me, “Shipping to the USA from Canada (we’re in Toronto) can be extremely variable. Our US sister company Chicago Electronic Distributors – can accept educational orders, and are set up to work with US tax exemptions and payment systems. If your readers wish to contact email@example.com for a quote, we can transfer stock from Canada and fulfill from our warehouse in Florida. This might add 10 days or so to the order time, but we do have the stock.”
If you are not in a rush to get it, and you are good with buying your own USB cord and battery pack, SparkFun indicates they will have some Microbits in stock by December 5th for $15.95 + shipping. You can add yourself to a waiting list to be notified. You can also add yourself to a waiting list at Adafruit (no indication of when they will get new stock) for a $19.95 pack with the battery and cable.
As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.
For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.
Rounding out this week’s collection of suggestions for things to do at the end of the school year, I have some that I did with my 5th graders over the years. In our district, 5th grade was the final year of elementary school, and some of the students in my gifted and talented class had been seeing me weekly since Kindergarten. So, it was always important to me to help them look back on all of those years in GT and think about what they had learned that they could take with them moving forward.
One activity that we did was to form “Dream Teams” of people who inspired them. You can read more about it in this blog post, and download a couple of the planning sheets we used. At the time of that post, the students used Puppet Pals to present their teams to the class, but there are plenty of other apps and free online tools that will work just as well.
Thinking about their values was a central theme with my 5th graders each year. To make these values more concrete and something that they could refer to as they transitioned to middle school, the students designed manifestos. I have a few posts explaining what we did with these. The students designed them using Canva. (You could just as easily use Google Drawing if you don’t have access to Canva.) The first year, I ordered each of them a t-shirt, with their designs. Some turned out well, and some didn’t. That can also be cost-prohibitive. What seemed to work better was to put them in some frames from the dollar store, as you can see in this post. If I was in the classroom this year, I would give them options to choose their final product, depending on the tools we had available (laser cutter, 3d printer, vinyl cutter, etc…), similar to this “One Word Project” that I did with my high school students. For more background on how I introduced manifestos with my students, see this post.
Another project that I’ve done with 5th graders to help them be a bit more introspective was, “Character Strength Floor Plans.” They loved doing these, and their imaginations could really run wild as they used metaphorical thinking to compare their strengths to the rooms of a house. If I were to do it again this year, I would allow students to choose from Tinkercad, Google Sheets, or CoSpaces to create their designs – or even make their own mini models from cardboard or other materials.
I hope these ideas, or the ones from my other posts this week, will help you to enjoy your last few weeks with your students before your well-deserved break!
Smash Boom Best is a debate podcast for kids. Season 3 will be airing this summer, 2020, but you can still access past episodes from Seasons 1 and 2, and even vote for your choices here. For example, I listened to “Invisibility vs. Flying” before writing this blog post. The episodes are an excellent way to introduce debate to students in upper elementary and middle school with their kid-friendly topics and efforts to include their young listeners by inviting them to submit debate ideas. The “Micro” and “Sneak Attack” rounds add to the fun.
Once your students have listened to a debate or two (the episodes are about 35 minutes long), you can use the curriculum provided by Smash Boom Best to help them create their own exciting debates. On that same page you will also find downloads for scorecards that can be used during the debates and some other debate resources.
Smash Boom Best is part of a family of podcasts that also includes Brains On. This is an award-winning show where the host investigates those burning questions we have about science, like, “Can you dig to the center of the earth?” More episodes can be found here. For educator resources and some transcripts of select shows, you can go to this page.
I mentioned that I would be trying to create some digital breakouts when I posted this. Leonardo the Leprechaun is my first attempt, and I thought I would share it with those of you who might be able to use it this week in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
I should tell you that I have already asked my 4th and 5th graders to give this a try, and I made some changes each time based on their feedback. We definitely had some major issues – one of them being that the new Google Sites is currently blocked in our district. If your students are unable to access the link, that is probably why, unfortunately. The other glitches were all my fault, but I’ve hopefully fixed them!
Your students may want to write down the answers they get for each clue, as they will all need to be submitted at the same time in the Google Form. Answers: 79, 550, 1732, POLYGON
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!