Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, K-5, Math

Valentine’s Day: Some “Heartfelt” Resources for Teachers

If you’re looking for some “heartfelt” Valentine’s Day resources for teachers, this post has got you covered!

In the process of trying to update and collect my downloadable resources from over 11 years of writing this blog, I decided to start a “store” (located under “Downloads for Teachers” in my top menu) hosted on my website. The purpose of this store is not for me to make money, but to make it easier for teachers to search and filter through my resources. It has been a slow process, and I haven’t worked out some of the kinks. But I think it will be worthwhile eventually.

You do need to create a free login in order download items from the store. The majority of the items are free. However, I’ve decided to sell bundles of items for a low fee, donating $1 out of every $5 earned to teacher projects on Donors Choose. I am slowly removing my items from Teachers Pay Teachers and will eventually host everything I create on my store with the multiple goals of giving teachers easy access to free resources that are good for students and hopefully earning money to give back to teachers who have amazing ideas for which they need funding. Currently, all of my S.C.A.M.P.E.R. resources are available in the store and I am now working on getting my Visible Thinking Routine resources added.

Would You Rather Valentine’s Day Math for Elementary

While working on my store, I recently updated my “Would You Rather Math?” for Valentine’s Day using a cute Canva template. You can download the new PDF here. For the old versions (including Google Slides and PowerPoint), as well as a more detailed explanation, here is the post I originally wrote when I made this resource based on the work of John Stevens and his WYRM website. Want the free Canva template link so you can edit it and make your own? I’ll be posting it in this week’s newsletter, so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

I haven’t had a chance to update and upload this next Valentine’s Day resource to the store, but if you like to give out something other than candy for Valentine’s Day (or any time of the year), these QR Code Coupons that I made way back in 20212 are a cute option to insert into an old chocolate box or into Valentine’s Day cards for your students.

If you are looking for more Valentine’s Day Resources, you can check out my Valentine’s Day Wakelet here.

a young girl holding her toy microphone while singing
3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Language Arts, Student Products

NPR Student Podcast Challenge

Way back in the early 2000’s, I convinced my then-principal to purchase a MacBook for my classroom. Another teacher (shout out to Diane Cullen at Fox Run Elementary!) and I sponsored a media club after school designed for 5th graders who were struggling in their classes. Our goal was to get them excited about school by getting them excited by creating for authentic audiences. Our little group started playing around with Garage Band, and began producing podcasts for the school. Those, along with their iMovie commercials, not only entertained and energized all of us but also helped to build school community. It was probably one of my first experiences seeing how producing something to be heard, seen, or used by others (Design Thinking) can be a powerful motivator.

I had no idea back then how popular podcasts would become. We had no resource materials when we started, fumbling along as we learned on our own. But now there are plenty available, and the tools for production have expanded way past Garage Band. I detailed many of these resources in an article for NEO almost two years ago on “Podcast Pedagogy.” I also recently blogged about “International Podcast Day“, which occurs annually on September 30th of each year. I still think that Smash, Boom, Best is one of the best gateways to podcasting for younger students.

Now I’d like to bring your attention the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. And before you dismiss it because you don’t think your students are ready to enter a contest (submissions are being accepted until April 28, 2023, possibly March 24th according to the Podcast Guide for Students?) or they are not in the age range (grades 5-12), I would still like to recommend taking advantage of the educational resources provided. You can listen to past winners and even a podcast about student podcasting. There are free downloads for teachers and for students that are useful for helping students to prepare, plan for, and produce podcasts. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. In fact, according to the NPR Podcast Guide for Students:

We don’t expect you to be experts. In fact, we expect that most of you are putting a podcast together for the first time.

And even though this is a contest, it’s also about learning new skills in a fun way. We want to make that learning easier — so we’ve put together a guide to help you along the way.

NPR Podcast Guide for Students

It can be daunting as a teacher if you have no experience, but it’s a good opportunity to model a growth mindset and learning along with your students. You could start by giving the option to a small group of advanced students and expand from there, or do one all together with the caveat that I always used, “I have no idea how this is going to go, but I love to learn new things even if it’s from my mistakes, don’t you?” Even if students design podcasts just for practice to begin with, there are so many useful skills students will learn such as researching, summarizing, outlining, and writing for an audience. Podcasts are just one of many great choices to give students when differentiating products so they can demonstrate learning (which my colleague, Amy Chandler, and I will be presenting at TCEA this year), so I encourage you to give it a try!

Link to Downloadable Poster Can Be Found in Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum Guide for Educators
3-12, Creative Thinking, Science

Gifts for the Gifted – Rob Ives Paper Automata

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

So, if you landed on this post in 2022, there are technically two more shopping days until Christmas, 2022. Your options for shipping something in time have grown astronomically risky and/or pricey. And fighting the crowds at a shopping mall holds little interest for you. Maybe you saw yesterday’s post on subscription ideas, but perhaps none of those seemed to fit the bill for the child you have in mind. So, you decided to take your chances by waiting for my last Gifts for the Gifted post of 2022 to be published, hoping this will be the perfect idea.

If you have a decent printer at home, a good supply of cardstock or printer paper, adequate ink, and a few dollars, I just might have an idea for you.

Rob Ives is a paper engineer who has published quite a few books and has a website. His website has tons of projects that you can download and make, including origami and paper automata, which are paper models with moving parts. You could, of course, order one of his cool books. But if you’re worried about getting a gift on time, you might want to purchase one of his downloads for a few dollars instead.

Paying members of the site can download projects for free. (Be sure the currency matches your country by going to the top right of the web page.) Or, you can pay per project that you download. I found a perfect Christmas one that cost me $3.50 for the PDF. It’s the “Hopping Reindeer.” All you need to do is download and print the PDF, and follow the instructions on the “Hopping Reinder” page to make your own festive automata that hop up and down as you turn the paper crank.

Rob Ives Hopping Reindeer Project

Children delight in making these, and it’s definitely an opportunity to bond, as well as to learn about simple machines and physics. There are plenty of other paper-only projects on the site, or you can check out the ones that just need a few other household supplies.

Some other places you can download paper automata (some of them free, but I haven’t vetted them all so be cautious!) are: Canon, Brother, Kamibox, Karakuri Workshop on Etsy, and Mike and Lace.

Have a great time, and see if you can design some of your own!

3-12, Books, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted — The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

When I was in the GT Classroom, some of the resources I inherited from the previous teacher were books of “lateral thinking puzzles.” I can’t recall the specific author, but today’s recommendation has similar puzzles and is written specifically for students ages 9-12. Some of the puzzles are definitely suitable for younger, and I have a feeling you could pose others to adults and stump them.

“Lateral thinking” is a term attributed to Edward de Bono, also widely known for his “Six Thinking Hats.” According to de Bono, we use two types of thinking when solving problems — logical or “vertical” thinking and creative or “lateral” thinking. Often a combination of these is needed in order to innovate.

Many riddles/brainteasers have come to be known as lateral thinking puzzles because they challenge you to think beyond the obvious assumptions. Often using puns, words that have multiple meanings, or topics in which we may have unconscious biases, these puzzles often seem impossible until we examine ourselves and try to coax our brain along a new path.

For example, Danielle Hall’s book, The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids, includes a riddle I’ve seen many times with different names substituted, “Alex is Charlie’s brother, but Charlie isn’t Alex’s brother. How is this possible?” The answer is that Charlie is Alex’s sister, but the reason this requires lateral thinking is due to the fact that many think of the name Charlie as predominantly a male name.

You can find this book at Bookshop.org or your favorite independent bookstore.

There are some riddles that I’ve seen before in this book, but many that are new to me. Among the 175 puzzles, you will find some classics like the Riddle of the Sphinx and other more recent creations. Answers are in the back of the book. If you’re a teacher, these riddles are great for transitions and brain breaks. If you’re a parent, they are fun for dinner conversations or car rides. Children will love trying to stump you, and it’s great for the adults to do “think alouds” as they try to solve the riddles in order to model lateral thinking and persistence.

If you’re interested in more brainteasers like these, I have an entire collection here. You might also enjoy this gift recommendation from 2020, Sleuth and Solve. You can also find other book recommendations on my Pinterest board.

3-12, Creative Thinking, Language Arts

Weird Gift Reviews by Matt E.

Today I’m going to do something that I don’t usually do (except for in my Gifts for the Gifted posts), which is to recommend a resource to you that isn’t free. I’m breaking this rule because:

  • it’s the last week before break for many of you, and I completely remember the insanity of that week as well as my desperation
  • it’s funny and I could totally see middle schoolers and up enjoying this activity
  • you can sneak in some writing practice while they are enjoying this activity

“Weird Gift Reviews” is a lesson idea shared by Matt Eicheldinger recently on TikTok. (And, yes, I also noticed that our last names are somewhat similar, but alas we are not related.) Matt is the published author of Matt Sprouts and the Curse of Ten Broken Toes. He also teaches middle school, and he swears by this lesson that he uses every year around this time. In the lesson, students look up weird gifts on Amazon and write their own reviews. You can purchase Matt’s digital package for $2.00 here, but in his video he also gives you all the information you need to craft your own version quickly, even the idea to crowd-source the weird gifts by having the students submit them through a Google Form.

@matteicheldinger I wouldn’t share this with teachers unless it works 100% of the time. This is the first thing I’ve shared ever on TikTok besides humor…enjoy! #teachertip #holidayactivities #teacherlessonplans #teacherconfessions #weirdgifts #teachertips @Amazon ♬ Quirky – Oleg Kirilkov

Of course, I am the Queen of Piggybacking on Ideas, so I immediately thought it would be funny to also provide students with some unusual reviews of products and have them guess what the products are. For example,

You could have the students draw what they think the mask would have looked like, and then reveal the actual product.

I found the above quote in this CNET article, and decided (since not all of the products or quotes are appropriate for school) to make a quick Google Slides presentation to share with you for doing this version of the lesson. Either print out the slides or add each slide as a background to Google Jamboard so students can use context clues and their imaginations to draw products to match the reviews. So, look at that, a bonus freebie for you!

Click here to download the, “What Could it Be?” presentation with 5 mystery products.

I’ll be adding this post to my December Wakelet in the Creative Activities column, where you can also find my Winter S.C.A.M.P.E.R. and Snowglobe lessons.

Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-12, Problem Solving

Let it Snow During Hour of Code!

It’s Computer Science Education Week (12/5-12/11), which means it’s time to do an Hour of Code with your students. I still remember when I first tried it with mine, and I was super worried it would be a complete disaster. I did not know how to code, so how could I facilitate a session of it? However, the Hour of Code tutorials are so helpful that I found myself just as engaged as the students — and we all celebrated whenever we figured out how to solve glitches in our coding.

Since then I’ve dabbled more in coding, and the Hour of Code website has become even better with searchable tutorials that you can filter by grade level, device, and ability level. Of course, there are also “unplugged” coding activities that require no device.

I think every student should get introduced to coding. Just like music or art, it could become their “thing” and they would never know if they don’t get the opportunity to try it out. My students and I also found many lessons in coding that we could apply to our own lives through Systems Thinking (some of which I outlined here).

One of my favorite HOC lessons was one I did with a first grade general education class. I had volunteered to help facilitate HOC on my campus, and it snowed the night before — a very unusual event in San Antonio. So, I switched gears and decided to help the students learn how to code snow in Scratch Jr. on the iPads. Now, there are several ways that you can do this, but I decided that the snow would be a character (or sprite, as Scratch likes to call them) so they could actually code how it behaved. You can learn more about the lesson, and see examples here. Keep in mind that this was a lesson from 2017, so some of the features may have been updated in Scratch Jr.

My Scratch Jr. lesson is one of many that I’ve collected and share on my December Wakelet, which has columns for: Computer Science Education Week, General, Kwanza/Hannukah/Other Winter Holidays, Creative Activities, Puzzles and Games, and STEM. Another popular post on there is my snow globe one, though it isn’t a coding lesson — If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I’d Wear a Bike Helmet to Bed. I’ll keep updating the Wakelet as I find more!