Category Archives: 5-8

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.

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Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Bot or Not?

Since tomorrow is “Super Tuesday”, secondary teachers may want to take advantage of the resource from PBS Learning Media called, “Bot or Not? How Fake Social Media Accounts Could Influence Voting.”  This lesson plan includes a link to a 6-minute PBS News Hour video that explains how bots have been used in the past in social media – from making someone appear more popular to generating fake accounts that spread particular political agendas.  Students are directed to a website that will analyze Twitter accounts to determine the likeliness of whether or not a user and/or their followers are bots. (I checked my own account, and discovered that I score a 0.3 out of 5 in bot-potential.)  For their final project, students research issues that are meaningful to them, and invent their own “helper bot” to advocate for their selected issues.

The majority of your students are probably not current voter, but they most likely use social media.  They may find it eye-opening to see how easy it is to purchase followers to mislead people about your popularity, and the extent to which bots are being used for propaganda.  As Artificial Intelligence becomes more ubiquitous, it will become harder and harder to distinguish between real and fake accounts.  If nothing else, this lesson will hopefully inspire your students to approach social media with a dose of cynicism.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Punny Literary Pet Names

Coming back to posting on a regular basis means that I am restarting my “Phun Phriday” posts, which are silly-and-not-necessarily-educational-but-they-could-be things that I’ve found on the web.  I curate these in a private Flipboard magazine that I turn to whenever I need a laugh.  Today’s entry comes from McSweeney’s.  It’s an article called, “Literary Pet Names Using Puns Unworthy of Their Namesakes.”  Mary Laura Philpott and Kristen Arnett have created a short list of nicknames for animals that includes cute, simple illustrations.  The first one, for example, is a dog named, “Virginia Woof.”  You can find a second list by the duo, with Mary Shelley the snail as its introduction, here. (Just be wary if you show this to kids, as the final one uses a synonym for donkey that some may find inappropriate – though I find it wildly funny.)

Happy Friday!

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Big Ideas for Little Scholars

So here I am again. You may have noticed the (not so) brief hiatus. Or you may not have noticed it. If you’re a teacher, the latter is probably more likely. Noticing things that don’t directly affect your classroom is understandably low on the priority list during the school year.
In case you don’t follow me on other social networks, I recently posted this announcement, “On January 6th, most of my colleagues will return to work in schools and, for the first time in over 28 years, I will not. I decided to retire in December. There are multiple factors, and I still feel torn in two about my choice. However, with several family members about to have surgeries and a daughter about to interview at a couple of colleges out of town I am going to take advantage of the next couple of months to work on personal relationships before I decide on my second career. As the narrator of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, recently said, ‘We often underestimate our ability to reinvent ourselves.’ Hopefully, I’m not OVERestimating it ;)”
I hesitate to call it retirement because, as my husband is quick to point out, I will be returning to work – but the actual job I will choose is a bit hazy at the moment. Here are my thoughts so far:

  • Starting as an intern at an advertising agency like Chandler on Friends,
  • Working as a staff writer for SNL or Stephen Colbert on The Late Show,
  • Training emotional support animals
  • Working at this bookstore if I can convince the owner I’m not a stalker
  • Going to law school
  • Running for office, probably something to do with Parks and Rec since I’ve been binge watching that particular show lately and Leslie Knope is one of my nonprofit heroes

While I sort things out, I figured I’d come back to this blog, which was one of my many hobbies that has fallen by the wayside in the last 18 months. As I was crafting this post, one of my dear friends from the world of Gifted and Talented tweeted a new site that she has begun, and I realized it was the perfect inaugural post for 2020.

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Donna Lasher has put together an amazing resource for parents and educators of advanced students from K-8 on this site, Big Ideas for Little Scholars.  With curriculum links, thinking skills strategies, and project ideas, this website is a dream come true for anyone who is looking for ways to challenge and inspire students.  This site is easy to navigate, and puts everything you need in one spot, including information on how to reach out to other teachers with similar interests.

When I first started teaching gifted children, there was a paucity of information, and I often felt like I was on my own.  Social networking has definitely changed this – to the point that the availability of materials can be overwhelming.  The structure and quality of Donna’s site makes this much more manageable.  It’s definitely worth bookmarking and visiting on a regular basis!

Thanks to Donna for sharing the site!  Like many of us, she has spent the time creating a resource that we hope will help others, especially our students.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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.

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