Category Archives: 5-8

An Invitation

As some of you may know, I made a giant leap outside of my comfort zone this year – leaving a job I had done for 19 years in a district where I had worked for 27.  All 27 of those years were spent teaching elementary school, and now I teach students in 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.

I haven’t said a lot about the school where I now work, so here is a brief summary:

Advanced Learning Academy is an in-district charter school in San Antonio Independent School District.  The school serves PK-12, but only grades 4-12 are housed on the campus where I work, Fox Tech High School.  The Fox Tech campus also hosts a Health and Law magnet school and CAST Tech High School.

ALA opened its doors 3 years ago, a combined endeavor between SAISD and Trinity University.  It is a school “for students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity and opportunities for acceleration.”  Trinity interns work along with the faculty to provide Project Based Learning activities, Design Thinking, and a variety of enrichment activities.

ALA is diverse, with students who live a few blocks away to students who live outside of the city.  No area is “zoned” for our campus, so the only students who attend are those who have applied.

The first, and best thing (in my opinion), that I noticed when I joined the staff here at ALA was the extreme dedication of each and every teacher.  No one is here for “a job.”  They are here because they want to do what is best for children and they want to improve their craft.  The quality of teaching on this campus has completely humbled me.  Know this: if your child attends ALA, his or her teacher will do everything possible to help that student reach his or her potential.

Project-Based Learning means that our Robotics students collaborate with their Humanities peers to create interactive works of art, our Engineering students work with architects to design the new playground and build a chicken coop for the lower campus, and Biology students work with another Robotics class to produce “Operation” games to represent the body systems they have researched.

somearemoreequal
Flyer for Student Art Exhibition at 1906 Studio

Design Thinking means that our students know what it means to make a prototype, test it, fail, and revise.  They have time to “go deep” into curriculum, and they often present to their peers, their parents, and outside experts.  We are working on craftsmanship to develop products that will enhance our campus, and will be lasting legacies.

IMG_6811
Student artwork, created in the MakerSpace for the Some Are More Equal exhibit. (Lasercut, woodwork, robotic movement – all created by students)

Enrichment Activities include field trips – lots of them.  Our campus is located downtown, a block from the Central Library, and within walking distance to the Riverwalk, the Tobin Center, and Hemisfair Plaza.  Our students go on at least one field trip a month, often more.  In addition, the grade levels have built in time for students to take “Wonder Courses,” which they can select based on interest.

IMG_6881.JPG
ALA students choose the 5 supplies they would take when fleeing their homes.  This was a Doctors Without Borders event hosted at Main Plaza (to which our students walked) from school.

Because of our unique structure, high school students can visit the 4th/5th grade wing to give students feedback on their video game designs, 5th graders can join 6th and 7th graders in programs like Speak Up, Speak Out, and students in grade 4-12 could work together to produce the musical, Shrek.

So, what’s the downside, you ask?

Transportation may be an issue, depending on your location.  There are in-district transfers on buses, but this may mean a long-ish ride for the student.

Because we are small, we cannot offer the number and variety of electives that larger high schools provide.  We do have athletics, a mariachi band, and a theater program.  The only foreign language we offer is Spanish.

Every child is different.  I would have thrived at ALA as a teenager, but my daughter, who wants to be in 10 million clubs and take Latin, would not choose to be here (especially with her mom as a teacher).

This is an invitation to consider our school if you live in the San Antonio area.  You do not have to be an SAISD student to apply.  The application window for our campus is November 26, 2018 – February 8, 2019.  To learn more about the application process, including opportunities to tour (which I highly encourage), click here.

Advertisements

Gifts for the Gifted – Creative Struggle

 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.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

I adore the work of Gavin Aung Than.  His Zen Pencils site features illustrations of inspiring quotes, and he has published several books.  This year, he added Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity to his long list of accomplishments.  I enjoyed seeing lesser know quotes in the collection, and felt particularly moved by the “Creative Pep Talk #1” entry.  It illustrates the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and supports my philosophy that we should focus more on the process than the product in education.  “Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing.  The result has become more important than the action.”  He criticizes our desire for fame and lauds anyone who “is a creative human being living anonymously.”

This book would be appropriate for teens and up, or for teachers to use in the classroom with any age.  As I try to convince my students to venture outside of their comfort zones and get frustrated with my own creative attempts and failures, the words of Brene Brown, so well depicted in Than’s book, keep me going:

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

creative struggle.jpg
Creative Struggle by Zen Pencils Cartoonist, Gavin Aung Than

Stratasys 3D Printing Lessons

If you are looking for 3d printing project ideas and curriculum, Stratasys has many free educational resources – you just have to know where to look for them and be willing to give Stratasys your contact info to download the lesson plans and project ideas.

From what I can tell, Stratasys is a company that focuses on providing 3d printing solutions for industrial use.  If you download any curriculum from them, you will probably receive an e-mail or two within a few days asking how they can help you with your 3d printing needs. The inquiries are worth it, however, in order to have access to the activities and lessons you can use with your students.

I have downloaded the Lessons and Project Ideas, Semester Curriculum, and 3d Printing Modules.  Depending on the experience of your students, most of the resources are good for middle and high school students.  You can integrate them into a STEAM curriculum, use them as stand-alone lessons, or make them accessible to students in your Maker Space to jump start some ideas.

ball-597523_1920.jpg

Jody Williams on Activism

Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, knows something about activism.  You can watch this RSA Animated Short in which she speaks about the importance of trying to make a difference.

Whether you agree with the students who join in the National Walkout today or not, I think that we should take heart that they are moved enough to choose do something rather than nothing.  Often accused of being self-centered and apathetic, these young people will be working to make their voices heard.

You can find more RSA Animated Shorts on a variety of topics here.  I will also be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos.

jodywilliams.PNG

War

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2018 was presented by a group from Richardson ISD.  #4CoresonFire focused on some cross-curricular activities using tools that I’ve used before.  However, I got some great integration ideas I hadn’t thought of – which makes the session a success in my book.

One of the teachers described how she had used StoryCorps and Newsela to start a unit about the Civil War.  (Here are my previous posts on StoryCorps and Newsela.)  I starred my notes wildly as she spoke; this is my secret code for, “USE THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL!”  My 5th graders were about to read the chapter in The Giver that describes Jonas’ first introduction to the concept of war, and I knew these would be great connections.

In the lesson described at TCEA, the teachers posed the question, “When do the costs of war outweigh the benefits?”  Their students discussed this, and then watched, “The Nature of War” on StoryCorps.  After a post-video discussion, the students read an article about the Civil War in Newsela (you do need to register for free to read the articles).  Then they launched into a study of the Civil War in their history class.

I tweaked the lesson to use with The Giver.  I used Pear Deck to give an interactive, student-paced lesson.  Here is the link.  If you want to use the presentation as intended, you will need to register for Pear Deck.  You can find out more about Pear Deck, as well as a link to get a premium code that lasts the rest of this school year, here.  Also, the StoryCorps video link is embedded.  Do to our district filters, students had to log in to YouTube on a separate tab before they were able to watch the video on their own devices.

I chose to use an article from Newsela about, “Just War Theory.”  Student responses at the end of the presentation varied widely from their initial ideas about whether or not war is ever justified.  Many of them agreed with the quote I posted at the end about war being banished from the earth – until I brought up The Giver.  There is no war anymore in this dystopian world, but there is also no freedom.

Is it possible to banish war without giving up most of our freedom?

That was a discussion that definitely engaged the class!

war

 

 

Thrively Revisited

My first post about Thrively was in 2015.  Since then, the platform has changed a bit.  There is still a free option that includes a Strengths Assessment and links to resources and local activities connected to student interests.  However, there are now journals and online courses, such as, “Find Your Passion” and “Grit.”  There are even more options in Classroom Pro and School Pro that you can see on this pricing comparison page.

I am using Thrively with my 5th grade gifted students.  They completed the Strengths Assessment today and began the “Find Your Passion” course.  With the free version, I have a Teacher Dashboard, so I am able to see their Strength Profiles, Interests, and Aspirations.  I can also read the responses to the journal prompts.  Using the “Class Insights” menu, I can access summaries of class interests and click on each interest to see exactly which students chose each category.  You can also involve parents by inviting them to view their child’s profile.

After discussing the assessment today, one student thanked me for giving him the opportunity to do it.  The entire class was enthusiastic about completing the assessment and continuing with the courses, which are a great tie-in to working on Genius Hour.

Thrively is a great tool to help you learn more about your students – and for them to learn more about themselves.  One student ironically commented that she was pretty certain that she was not assertive like her assessment claimed – until we discussed the meaning of assertive and she realized that it can be a great strength.

Due to the vocabulary and the amount of reading involved, I would not recommend using Thrively with students younger than 5th grade.

thrivelythrively2

Parallelogram

I learned to love math later in my school career (high school).  I was one of those people who thought I just wasn’t born with the “math gene.”  With the help of great high school mathematics teachers, math became one of my favorite subjects even though it still didn’t come easily to me.  I found that I enjoyed the logic, the challenge, and the satisfaction of solving difficult problems.  In addition (no pun intended), I love teaching math precisely because it doesn’t come easily to me; I think I can communicate the interim steps to the solution in simpler language than someone who has a brain that quickly jumps to answers.

You may have seen my post on 15 Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep, which links to many “fun” math pages online.  One of the aspects that I like about many of these sites is that they encourage conversation.  “Parallelogram” is a new one that I need to add to my post.  It is a weekly set of math challenges by Dr. Simon Singh that will be sent to your students for free.  The questions are designed for 11-13 year olds, but I plan to try it with my 4th and 5th grade classes.  Teachers can sign up, and have students join through a class code to be added to a teacher dashboard.  You can get a preview of the program here.  Keep in mind that the match challenges do include video clips, and I always recommend that you preview any videos before showing them to your students.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 12.58.05 PM.png
Click here to learn more.