I’m not actually a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, believe it or not. If you search “Valentine” on this blog, though, you would suspect otherwise. I’ve collected quite a few resources to use in class based on this holiday – mostly because my students seem to love it so much. In fact, I’m pretty sure kids get a lot more of enjoyment out of it than adults!
In case you missed it, here was my 2016 Valentine blog post – which pretty much linked to everything I had curated so far. Since then, I’ve added:
I asked my 1st grade gifted students today to try to think from their parents’ perspectives of what they would like for Valentine’s Day besides food or flowers. The first student said that her parents would want, “my sister and I to stop fighting,” which seemed like a pretty good response. Then the next student said, “Yeah, my mom would want to rest in peace.” I think I know what he meant, but you can never be sure. Then another student said, “Beer!” which brought up an interesting discussion as to whether or not that could count – because “it’s a food!” as some of the students declared…
Sometimes my job just makes me smile 🙂
Anyway, this all started because we are studying different countries, and learning about the Depth and Complexity icon, “Multiple Perspectives.” I signed our class up to participate in a Virtual Valentines project, and we will hopefully be exchanging Valentines with a class in another country. It occurred to me that are probably very few countries that actually celebrate this holiday, but I did some research and found out that several places around the world either have Valentine’s Day traditions or other similar variations. (I’m still trying to figure out why “Love Spoons” haven’t caught on yet in the USA.)
I signed us up for Level 2 of the Virtual Valentines Project, which means that we will not only make virtual Valentines, but try to exchange them with another class. If that is too much pressure, you can also choose Level 1, which just legally binds you to having your class create virtual Valentines. Which I read to mean, “I am putting my name down, but my life is crazy and it’s quite possible that by ‘virtual’ Valentines I mean that my students will just create some in their imagination, so I refuse to commit myself to them doing anything that isn’t somehow tied in to standardized testing.”
The Virtual Valentines Project has a resource page, which gives suggestions for tools to use to create your digital cards. I would add to this list the Quiver App’s free augmented reality Valentine’s Day page, which you can find here.
For more Valentine’s Day ideas, you can look at last year’s blog post. I’ll probably update and re-blog it in the near future.
At the end of last year, right before Christmas, I saw a tweet about The Extraordinaires. After visiting the site, I was intrigued by the product and ended up buying one of the smaller sets to try out with my students. Since my 2nd grade gifted students are studying structures, I chose the “Buildings” set.
All of the products in The Extraordinaires line revolve around Design Thinking. Each set includes Character cards, Design projects, and Think cards. The sets also include a drawing pad, and at least one pen. The Buildings Set includes 6 each of the Character and Design cards and 10 Think cards. Larger, more expensive sets, contain more cards.
Each of The Extraordinaires Studio projects allows you to choose a character and a design project. For example, one of my students got the “giant” character and “sports venue,” so his assignment was to dream up a place for his character to play a sport. You can, of course, mix and match the cards, which makes for interesting combinations. The think cards can be used to help refine the project and add details.
Fortunately, I only have 5 students in this particular class, so the set I bought is the perfect size. (Some of the larger sets have higher age recommendations. The company assured me in a tweet that the 16+ noted on the box “only refers to the guidebook and the depth of content,” so this leads me to believe that the cards would still be fine to use with lower ages.)
My students were extremely motivated by the Character and Project cards. The graphics on these definitely generated enthusiasm. Before passing out the cards, we had talked about empathy. I emphasized the importance of designing for their “clients” instead of themselves. For about 20 minutes, there was complete silence in the room as the students got to work.
I had already told the students that this was just the beginning, that they would go through many drafts before settling on final designs. It’s good I prepared them, because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them about empathy. As they shared their first drafts, it became clear that they drew buildings that were familiar and just added a few details (like kelp, for the mermaid’s house) to align the structures with the characters.
Fortunately, the website for The Extraordinaires includes some resources for teachers. We will be using the “Graphic Organizer for Getting to Know an Extraordinaire.” After all, it’s difficult to have empathy for someone you don’t know. This is actually all practice for our final semester project, for which they actually will be designing something for someone at our school. (More about that in a future post.)
If you like the idea of teaching Design Thinking to your students, and would like some other resources, Jackie Gerstein has a wonderful collection of design challenges here. For a great free Design Thinking curriculum, City X is another alternative. To see why you should even consider incorporating Design Thinking into your curriculum, this video from The Extraordinaires allows students to explain. (Be sure to watch all the way to the end if you really want your heartstrings tugged 😉
“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi. I nodded. Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like. A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.
I had just returned from Picademy in Austin. Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them. They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert. But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew. It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.
“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted. I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft. They weren’t quite sure. Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.
“Cool!” was the general consensus. I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python. In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.
I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension. Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom. But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used. When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. But I was worried it would be way over my head. The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.
Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels. On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies. We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.
On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners. We were given 4 hours and extra supplies. My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!” There was a lot of trial and error and frustration. (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.
If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur. The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want. Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.
If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply. The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses. All training information can be found here.
An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website. I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi. The site is extremely user-friendly. However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.
I first read about “Integrative Thinking” in this article by Katrina Schwartz on Mindshift. The article outlines three thinking/problem-solving tools that are taught through the I-Think Initiative at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management: Ladder of Inference, Pro/Pro, and Causal Models. Integrative Thinking involves using these tools and others to consider solutions for problems by thinking about other perspectives as well as metacognition.
What fascinates me about the examples in Schwartz’ article is that these methods are being taught to students as young as first grade, and the students are applying them in productive ways that could be useful to many adults. By becoming aware of how our own experiences can funnel our inferences and assumptions, and deliberately trying to reach outside of these, we are able to think more creatively. It seems like a monumental task, especially for students who are still learning how to read, but it can be done.
You can view an interesting Ted Ed video on the “Ladder of Inference,” embedded within Schwartz’s article, that gives a great example of how we often use the ladder to our detriment. Teachers who have been trained by through the I-Think Initiative give other examples of how the thinking tools have made dramatic differences in their classrooms.
As we continue to prepare our students for the future, I think that it’s imperative that we teach them metacognition and offer them critical thinking methods that will help them to be problem-solvers who can adapt to the fast-paced world in which they will eventually become the decision-makers.
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.
“Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads. For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad. The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games. With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.
Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit. They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play. They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one. That one, though, was way too easy, according to them. So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction. As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.
To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools. They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors. There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book. I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.
What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.
The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices. You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience. One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well. Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.”
During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break. Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place. (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)