The link to Barb’s Instructables post gives great directions on how you can use Scratch, pressure switches, and a Makey Makey to create an interactive display of book choices for students.
There are many potential students-centered uses for this idea, such as using student-created book blurbs or designing containers for the pressure switches and wires. Scratch has made it extremely easy in the last couple of years to program for use with Makey Makey, and Barb has a link to a video to help you out in her Instructables post.
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.”
First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen. It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book. Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.
I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago. Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person. After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers. She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis. So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.
I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed. The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms. Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer. She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore. However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona. Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different. Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences. Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.
This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up. To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author. If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.
My gifted and talented first graders study geography and choose different countries to research. @storymamas recently tweeted about a book called, This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe, and I thought it would be a good resource to use with this class. Children like to see the differences and similarities of places around the world. A few years ago, I sent out a Twitter plea for people from other countries to add pictures of their playgrounds to this slide show, and my students enjoy comparing the sites to our own and finding the locations on a map.
Lamothe went much further than collecting images on a slideshow for his book. You can read about his writing process for This is How We Do Ithere. He created all of the illustrations in his book based on photographs shared with him by families in seven different countries. My students were fascinated with everything from how the featured children got to school to how they slept. They were surprised by uncanny resemblances to our own culture (they have a Smarboard in their classroom, too!) as well as unimaginable contrasts (an entire family sleeping in one bed!)
You can download a free activity kit to accompany the book here.
Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers. Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free. This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.
Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings. Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month. You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.
I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels. For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level. CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.
CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site. There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.
Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers. Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.
In yesterday’s post, I reviewed The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, which is one of the books my colleagues and I received in our first package from The Next Big Idea Club. Today, I would like to talk about the second book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink.
When shares the intriguing research that has been done about how success and failure can often hinge on temporal choices. With intriguing real-life examples weaved in with scientific documentation, Pink shows us how we can give ourselves incredible advantages by conceding that our brains and bodies are extremely influenced by our internal clocks.
In this book, Daniel Pink demonstrates many direct implications of this research for education. For example, he cites a Danish study that established an increase in standardized test scores after students took 20-30 minute breaks. He also devotes a section of his book to the importance of recess, emphasizing that students should receive several breaks throughout the day (Finland gives their students a 15-minute break every hour). Teachers, according to Pink, should also get breaks for themselves by alternating monitoring duties during these times.
School start times, something that seems to have been in the news quite a bit lately, also have a dedicated section in When. Implementing later start times for teens is highly recommended, and has been shown to improve attendance and academic performance. Are you in college? “The optimal time for more college classes is after 11 a.m.” (That explains so much about my college experience!)
In When, you will find not only advice on optimal times of day to be productive, but suggestions for
the different strategies to use in the changing stages of a project – and of our lives. You will learn about the science of endings and why, “Choral singing might be the new exercise.” There are many applications for education, but even more for living your best life.
When is the perfect companion to The Culture Code, as both books highlight the need for aligning purpose with thoughtful actions as well as the value of connecting with others.
After receiving a tip from my former principal, John Hinds, about “The Next Big Idea Club,” two of my colleagues and I decided to share a subscription. Every three months, we will receive two new, non-fiction books selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Susan Pink, and Adam Grant.
We just received our first package, and it included a bonus book. The books we received were: The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, Endure, by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell, and When by Daniel Pink. I dove into The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, first.
The Culture Codemay very well turn out to be my favorite book of the year, despite the fact that it is not written specifically for educators. Coyle begins the book with an interesting case study that illustrates what he believes to be the three characteristics all successful groups do: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose. He continues to give evidence and examples for each criteria, referring to the practices of some of the world’s most famous organizations, like Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs.
So much of The Culture Code can be applied to classrooms, schools, and districts. I alternated between shouting, “Yes! That’s what I try to do with my students, too!” and, “Wow! We should try that!” throughout the entire book.
Some big “yes” moments:
“Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful, overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”
“To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.”
“Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough, but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices.”
“It’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error-filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.”
One interesting idea that I think would be helpful to use more in education would be the concept of “Red Teaming.” This is a strategy, according to Coyle, used by the military to test potential solutions to a problem. The “Red Team,” which is comprised of people who were not involved in proposing the original solution, lists any way they can think of that would derail the plan. This helps the leaders to uncover vulnerabilities and prepare for them ahead of time. The purpose of the Red Team is to make the plan stronger, and the only way that it can work is in an environment where the participants feel safe and connected.
Coyle makes an interesting distinction between organizations that are designed for proficiency and ones that have a creative purpose. His insights about the different leadership required for each type of organization reminded me of what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems in education – we are structured around proficiency, but we bemoan the lack of creativity. Coyle talks about two leaders who have clear, but diverse messages based on the divergent purposes of their companies: “Meyers needs people to know and feel exactly what to do, while Catmull needs people to discover that for themselves.” I honestly think that we regularly convey both of these messages to our students – to their detriment.
After reading The Culture Code, I found that it certainly reinforced the beliefs that many of us have about classrooms needing to be places where students feel safe and connected. The biggest problem that I think that education faces today is that we seem to have difficulty agreeing on the purpose of education and communicating that consistent message to our students.