Category Archives: 5-8

What’s the Big Idea?

I first mentioned Donna Lasher’s website, Big Ideas for Little Scholars, last January. Since that post, she has added so much more to this incredible resource, so I thought it would be good to revisit it. If you teach gifted and talented and/or advanced elementary or middle school students, Donna’s site should be your number one bookmarked page in your browser. It is incredibly thorough and very well-organized. For example, she has a page of academic and creative contests organized by categories, as well as a link to a page where they are grouped by months they begin. If you are looking for seasonal and holiday lessons, Donna (@bdlasher) has another page for these in chronological order.

With lesson ideas, teaching materials, books, and websites all organized by grade level bands, Big Ideas for Little Scholars makes it simple for teachers and parents to access innumerable resources for children who are craving more challenges in any subject area. In addition, you can visit Donna’s “About” page to learn how you can get invited to access and contribute to a Google Team Drive for teachers of gifted students.

I love to read Donna’s blog posts, and I always look forward to receiving her newsletter in my Inbox. If you feel like you’re in a rut (okay – I realize many of you wish you could get in a rut right now), want to find a fresh way to teach something, or desire ideas to make a topic more engaging, Big Ideas for Little Scholars should be the first place you look.

Through deeper learning experiences students master core academic content and build skills in problem solving and critical thinking. **THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY ALTERED TO REMOVE OR OBSCURE STUDENT IDENTITIES.**
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

The Good Project

I hesitated about doing this post. I know that educators are struggling right now. You are trying to do what has to be done, and you don’t need anything extra. Getting through what is already required by your district and/or school is stressful enough.

But, The Good Project is really… well… good! It is meaningful, full of free resources, and incredibly relevant. And you, the teacher, can differentiate for yourself by choosing the level of classroom integration you want. Whether you decide to select some of the materials to embed in a curriculum you already have, or go deep with the 170 page lesson plan The Good Project provides, I am pretty certain you can find something that will benefit your students.

I learned about The Good Project when the video, “Beyond the Science Club: A Good Project Dilemma” was tweeted. When I jumped down the rabbit hole, I realized some of my favorite old friends were down there – Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero (also responsible for Visible Thinking Routines). In fact, they were the rabbits who created this fantastic hole I stumbled into.

In their words, “The Good Project promotes excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing people to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society.” I don’t know about you, but I think we desperately need some conversations about those 3 E’s – excellence, engagement, and ethics. The Good Project gives you all the tools you need to do this with your students.

Though The Good Project’s resources are primarily created for secondary students, I could definitely see doing some of the activities and lessons with upper elementary and middle school – particularly gifted students. For example, I think the Value Sort activity would go well with the unit my 5th graders did on Character. If you are looking for specific ideas to use with your students, you can use the Activities Database. You can weave in ethical dilemmas into your social studies or science activities. (There are even a couple of interactive ones students can do online.)

To go deeper, I would suggest the Good Collaboration Toolkit or the Lesson Plans.

The Good Project does not tell students what to think, or what is right and wrong. It gives them space to do their own thinking about their values and what is important to them. With class discussions, it can help them to see different perspectives, and learn about the complexities of the decisions they make. The Good Project poses questions about very real-life decisions that we are likely to encounter so that students can take time to analyze the potential effects of different choices.

image from The Good Project Overview

On a Plate

I did not grow up in a wealthy family. I never wore designer clothes, couldn’t afford a car until I was 21 (and, boy, was it a clunker). I paid my own way through college – sometimes working three jobs at a time – and still graduated thousands of dollars in debt.

But I was still privileged.

I am white, and I had many people along the way who gave me chances. Yes, I worked hard, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without the lucky breaks I got throughout my life.

For a long time, I dismissed anyone who put me in that “privileged” category. Because I had worked so, so hard – and I went to school with people who could take a private jet to see a Broadway show on a whim or wear their clothes once and give them away. I was not in their league, I argued.

It took me many years to understand that “privileged” is not synonymous with” rich,” and that, despite all of my hard work and the many times I held my breath at the ATM when I tried to withdraw cash, I still had advantages that others do not.

“On a Plate” is a comic by Toby Morris that illustrates privilege, reminding us that our country is not a meritocracy, as we would like to believe, where anyone who works hard is rewarded.

In my series of weekly anti-racist posts, I am trying to learn more about myself and improve my own attitude along the way. I’m also trying to share resources with teachers for discussing anti-racism in the classroom. I hope that some of you will show this comic to your students, and open up a discussion about “privilege.” And I hope that some of them will come to the conclusion that while no one should be punished for being privileged, we need to do a better job of making sure no one should be punished because they are not.

Image by s__grafik from Pixabay

Here is a list of my previous anti-racist posts:

Also, for more amazing anti-racism resources, check out the Live Binder curated by Joy Kirr.

Smithsonian Summer Road Trip

The Smithsonian and USA Today have joined forces to produce a free, 40-page packet of activities, “Summer Road Trip.”  To read more about what is included, and to download the free PDF, visit this article by Darren Milligan for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. The Learning Lab is one of my favorite places to find quality educational materials, including lesson plans, videos, and professional development.  Click here to see some other posts that I’ve done on this blog about specific Smithsonian Learning Lab resources.

Map with Toy Car
Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

Think Like a Coder

TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom.  These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students.  You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords.  Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.”  Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)

If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals.  Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.”  It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room.  Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination.  The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.

Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t.  It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding.  If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a Code.org studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given.  This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.

Circuit Board Brain
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

iCivics Game Odyssey

I have been a fan of iCivics, the site founded by Justice O’Connor in 2009,  since 2011. Since then, the site has continued to add fun, quality activities designed to help students learn about being responsible citizens. As a response to our current educational environment, iCivics has introduced a free, quest-based resource called, “iCivics Game Odyssey,” that will encourage students to, according to the site, #shelterinplay.

To begin, students will download the Odyssey map, which will be on a Google Slide that they will copy so they can edit it.  As they complete each quest, they will be able to add the badges they have earned to the map. The quests, which are also each accompanied by interactive Google Slides activities, are connected to iCivics games.  New quests are scheduled to be added each Monday.  If used as an assignment, teachers can have students turn in their completed Google Slides copies at the end of each quest, and the map once all badges have been earned.

There is a link on the Odyssey page to weekly planners for middle school and high school teachers who would like to use the lessons for class.  (To access these, you will need to register for a free iCivics account.)  Although 6-12 seem to be the targeted grade levels, I think that upper elementary students would also enjoy these activities.  There is no requirement for this resource to be used by schools, so parents can feel free to provide this as an enrichment activity for their children and even play along with them.

capitol-720677_1280
Image by 272447 from Pixabay