3-12, Critical Thinking, Games

Keep The Challenges Coming!

Ahh, I remember this time of year in the classroom so well, when the semester is nearing its close — and panic begins to set in. Those students you tried so hard to set a fire under earlier who seemed to think they had all of the time in the world (my daughter’s coach used the term, “no sense of urgency” for those who seemed delightfully unconcerned about the passage of time) are slowly beginning to realize they might have slightly underestimated how much time those assignments would take, or how much help they might need from you. And then there are those who finished everything almost before you even finished describing the task, and they are looking at you expectantly for the next challenge. These are the moments that test a teacher’s multi-tasking abilities to the max, and it is oh so tempting to tap your magical heels together and wish yourself anywhere else but standing in front of a room full of students who desperately want a million different things all at exactly the same time.

It’s tempting to show a video (sure, I’ve done it, everyone has those days) or tell the got-it-done-on-timers they can read a book or play on their phones while you help the ones who need to catch up. But, despite the cheers you might get for unrestrained phone time or another screening of Monsters, Inc., most students really do want to learn when they are at school. Independent research projects and Genius Hour are certainly options, but those need planning and possibly more guidance than you have the bandwidth to offer at the moment. That’s when puzzles and brainteasers can be helpful. And I just happen to have a collection of those for you right here.

From math stumpers to Ted Ed riddles and rebus puzzles to lateral thinking teasers, you can choose some challenges that are just right for your students from this Wakelet of Brainteasers and Riddles. There is even a link to site to make your own puzzles for those of you with older students who might want to create some for their peers. Encourage your students to take some time to exercise their brains in a different way, and even invite them to try to stump you.

Every day, I collect and organize more resources to help you engage students. See all of my Wakelet collections here, and feel free to comment on this post if you have a suggestion for a link that I should add.

Critical Thinking, history, K-12, Random Thoughts, Research

Jon Stewart, M.C. Hammer, and Data

I spend a lot of time curating random things that interest me (see my NEO post on my curation methods here) , and I sometimes find obscure connections that inspire me to group them together into a blog post. As I was browsing my “Blog Ideas” Wakelet after my morning dog walk, I rediscovered a couple of resources I’d saved that correlated quite well with the podcast I’d just been listening to, Smartless. First, I’ll share a screen shot of this tweet from @AlvinFoo:

Next up, I have the updated Interactive Media Bias Chart, which has also been included in my Wakelet for “Evaluating Online Information.” (My daughter had originally shown me this site when she was taking a Journalism class last year, and I found it fascinating.) Whether you agree with its findings or not, it’s definitely worth discussing with older students when talking about current events and/or the reliability of news sources.

And, lastly, I have a quote from Jon Stewart that he attributes to M.C. Hammer (beware an expletive near the beginning) — and it is something we should never forget when looking at any data, including standardized test scores in education (click here if the embedded audio does not appear below):

There is nothing quite so satisfying as finding a way to tie together so many seemingly disparate topics in one post, so I consider my work done for today 😉

Critical Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

Tug of War

I want to start today’s post by thanking the NEISD GT teachers who attended yesterday’s after-school training. Many of them came even though they then needed to go back to other campuses to attend PTA meetings. Despite the extra long work day, their enthusiasm and cooperation were amazing. Yesterday’s session was, “Frameworks for Facilitating Deeper Discussions and Learning,” which you can read about on my Professional Development page.

One of the Visible Thinking Routines we practiced yesterday was “Tug of War.” We used an example from the original Making Thinking Visible book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. In the “Picture of Practice” for this routine, Clair Taglauer, an 8th grade teacher from Traverse City, Michigan, describes how she used “Tug of War” with her students when they began reading The Giver. This is a book used with 5th graders by many of the GT teachers in my former district. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, describes a dystopian society where as much as possible is “the same” to avoid conflict. Taglauer asked her students to think about the concept of an ideal society from the two opposing sides represented in the book: sameness and diversity. With this routine, students generate arguments that support each side, and then post them along a rope. A key part of the second step is placement of the ideas along the rope. Instead of just hanging them on each side, groups also determine the strength of each argument and rank them so that what they believe to be the strongest supporting statements for each side are at the opposite ends of the rope, growing increasingly weaker toward the middle.

“Tug of War” helps students to not only look at more than one side of a dilemma, but also to note the varying layers of complexities and justify their arguments. It’s a good routine to use whenever it seems like students are jumping to conclusions, and you can have multiple ropes coming together at one point if there are several sides to consider.

You can see one example of the “Tug of War” the GT teachers did yesterday below. (Note for those of you not from Texas: HEB is our beloved grocery store!) You can learn more about this Visible Thinking Routine by reading the book I mentioned above, visiting the Project Zero website, or clicking here for some videos and a downloadable template. I’m working on a Wakelet collection of resources for Thinking Routines, but in the meantime you can click here to see some other posts that I’ve done about them.

“Tug of War” Visible Thinking Routine using The Giver
Anti-Racism, Critical Thinking, K-12

From CRT to RCT

With all of the controversy about Critical Race Theory in the news (see this explanation if you would like to learn more), Colin Seale of ThinkLaw has recorded a video that reminds us that we are once again fixated on the wrong issue when it comes to educating our children. Instead of worrying about what information students are getting in our schools, we should be concerned about whether or not we are helping young people learn how to think independently. In other words, let’s switch the narrative from Critical Race Theory (CRT) to Raising Critical Thinkers (RCT). I don’t know one parent who would want his or her child to grow up “gullible.” So, let’s teach our students how to be curious, ask questions, look at topics from multiple perspectives, and weigh the reliability of information. Watch and read about Seale’s video here, and consider that the most oppressive governments in history have been the ones who have actively discouraged critical thinking by restricting access to information and establishing strict educational curriculums that allow for no divergence of ideas. We can make sure this never happens while maintaining the uniqueness and diverseness of our nation by raising critical thinkers.

For more Anti-Racist posts, be sure to check out this Wakelet and feel free to follow all of my free collections here.

3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Writing

The End of the Year As We Know It

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of the activities that I’ve done in the past with my students as the school year comes to a close. I decided to put them in this Wakelet so you don’t have to search for them. On Twitter, Susan Barber (@SusanGbarber) shared a fabulous activity she did with her high school seniors, and I asked for her permission to share. (My post, Blackout Poetry Maker, has been one of the most popular ones this year, so I thought this might be something my readers would enjoy!)

Of course, once people saw her examples, they wanted to know more about the project. It turned out the students had several choices in addition to the blackout poetry of college essays. She later tweeted this Google Slides presentation so people could see the options and examples. As you know, I am a big fan of choice and open-ended activities that allow students to show their creativity, so I am a big fan of Susan’s idea, and I hope you can use it, too!

option from “The End of the Year as We Know It” activity by @SusanGBarber
3-5, 6-12, character, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking

Manifestos, Dream Teams, And More

Rounding out this week’s collection of suggestions for things to do at the end of the school year, I have some that I did with my 5th graders over the years. In our district, 5th grade was the final year of elementary school, and some of the students in my gifted and talented class had been seeing me weekly since Kindergarten. So, it was always important to me to help them look back on all of those years in GT and think about what they had learned that they could take with them moving forward.

One activity that we did was to form “Dream Teams” of people who inspired them. You can read more about it in this blog post, and download a couple of the planning sheets we used. At the time of that post, the students used Puppet Pals to present their teams to the class, but there are plenty of other apps and free online tools that will work just as well.

Thinking about their values was a central theme with my 5th graders each year. To make these values more concrete and something that they could refer to as they transitioned to middle school, the students designed manifestos. I have a few posts explaining what we did with these. The students designed them using Canva. (You could just as easily use Google Drawing if you don’t have access to Canva.) The first year, I ordered each of them a t-shirt, with their designs. Some turned out well, and some didn’t. That can also be cost-prohibitive. What seemed to work better was to put them in some frames from the dollar store, as you can see in this post. If I was in the classroom this year, I would give them options to choose their final product, depending on the tools we had available (laser cutter, 3d printer, vinyl cutter, etc…), similar to this “One Word Project” that I did with my high school students. For more background on how I introduced manifestos with my students, see this post.

Another project that I’ve done with 5th graders to help them be a bit more introspective was, “Character Strength Floor Plans.” They loved doing these, and their imaginations could really run wild as they used metaphorical thinking to compare their strengths to the rooms of a house. If I were to do it again this year, I would allow students to choose from Tinkercad, Google Sheets, or CoSpaces to create their designs – or even make their own mini models from cardboard or other materials.

I hope these ideas, or the ones from my other posts this week, will help you to enjoy your last few weeks with your students before your well-deserved break!

Student-designed (5th grade) Character Strength Floor Plan