Category Archives: Education

Mind-Blowing Maps

For this week’s Phun Phriday, we have a collection of unusual maps that you probably won’t find in any atlas.  Don’t worry; these aren’t election maps (they are far more interesting, in my opinion).

First of all, head on over to this article on Thrillest to find out the favorite television shows in each of the United States.  Some are not so surprising, but others definitely seem a bit incongruous.

Maybe the t.v. shows have some connection to the most distinctive last name in each state?  Or maybe not.  Jensen seems poised to take over the country, so someone should definitely do some research on that particular trend.

I know this blog has readers all over the world, so I apologize that the first two maps are America-centric.  Rest assured that this last resource covers anyone as it speculates what would happen if we put the entire population of the world into one city.

Yes, you read that correctly.

People really think of the most interesting ways to visualize maps…

Lego Micro World Map
Lego Micro World Map

Treat People Right

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about an inspirational video about kindness that is featured in a series produced by StoryCorps and Upworthy called #WhoWeAre.  Today I want to share another video from that series about the unusual way a man handled being robbed at knife-point.  It may not be one that you should show younger students, but is definitely great for 5th grade and up.  The video is a good reminder that empathy can often be much more powerful than anger or fear.


Treat People Right
Treat People Right

Here are some more inspirational videos for students.

The Bus Driver

In this recent story that I heard on NPR, the host stated that a survey conducted by the group behind Sesame Street found that most parents would choose having children who are kind over having children who get good grades.  Of course, teaching children to be kind does not work if it isn’t modeled for them.  Behaving kindly ourselves can go a long way toward cultivating this in our children.  It also helps when they hear and see real-life stories of kindness.

Larry Ferlazzo recently published a post about a StoryCorps/Upworthy collaboration that is producing videos for a campaign called, #WhoWeAre.  There are a couple of videos that really reflect amazing kindness, and I wanted to share one of them today.  I’m going to call it, “The Bus Driver,” since there doesn’t appear to be an actual title for the video other than its description.

image from "The Bus Driver"
image from “The Bus Driver”

We have a tendency to laud the men and women who make headlines with their fame and/or fortune.  But it is people like the bus driver in this short story who are the true heroes of the world.

For more inspirational videos for students, click here.

Genius Camp

Earlier this year, I mentioned a school in Texas that does a school-wide Genius Hour and has student-led EdCamps.  As an elementary teacher of gifted and talented students, I’ve done Genius Hour with my own small classes, but was intrigued by the idea of doing something school-wide.  With some creative scheduling spear-headed by our principal, we have been able to do something along these lines with an entire grade level, and I thought I would share it here.

Every grade level at our school has an extra planning time once a week so the teachers can conduct Professional Learning Communities. To make this work, the “special” teachers (P.E., Music, Librarian, Nurse, Counselor, Reading Specialist, and I) take students for an enrichment time.  This means that I am able to meet with a 5th grade class once a week.

With the help of the rest of the Specials team, we arranged to each meet with the same 5th grade homeroom 5 weeks in a row.  This enabled me to work with one homeroom class to offer what I’m going to call a “Genius Camp” (since it is kind of a hybrid of Genius Hour and EdCamp).

Basically, the students of one homeroom brainstorm things they would like to teach other students. They work on their presentations for 5 weeks.  At the beginning of the 6th week, the students in the other classrooms sign up on a Google form for the sessions they would like to attend.  For the enrichment time on the 6th week, the entire grade level has “Genius Camp” with one homeroom organizing and the rest attending.

Here are what the weeks look like (each enrichment period is 45 minutes long):

  • Week 1 – Brainstorming ideas for sessions
  • Week 2 – Going over “what makes a good session” and signing up for what they want to teach
  • Week 3 – Planning the session, including step-by-step instructions
  • Week 4 – Going over reflection sheets, and practicing sessions
  • Week 5 – Practicing and critiquing each other’s sessions (all materials due this day or students cannot present the next week)
  • Week 6 – Other homerooms fill out Google Form selecting 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice for sessions.  Sessions are presented during enrichment time that week.  (All homerooms meet in cafeteria first to go over expectations.  Reflections are filled out at every session and turned in at the end.)

So far, we’ve gone through one complete Genius Camp cycle. (All but one student in the whole grade level said that they would like to do this again.) Overall, it was successful, but there were some issues:

  • Time is a huge factor.  Some sessions didn’t take up enough time, but most of students felt like they didn’t have enough.
  • Some students were not good at “managing” their peers.  For this round, we will go over pointers for that.
  • Some students felt like they didn’t really learn anything new.

We have four 5th grade classrooms.  The plan is to let all four present and participate, and then possibly do another Genius Camp allowing the outstanding sessions to be offered again.

Most of the students have been very excited about participating and presenting.  They are allowed to present in groups of 1-3 people, so those who aren’t comfortable doing the actual teaching can still help out.

Some of the sessions we did during our first round were:

  • How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
  • How to Make Slime
  • Model Rockets
  • How to Make Sock Puppets

There are logistics to consider, of course.  You need to think about the number of sessions you need to make groups manageable (I limited it to 8 students in a session) and the locations of the sessions. After the Google Form was filled out, I assigned students to sessions and printed name tags with their session titles and locations.  On the day of the session, I made sure all of the required materials were delivered to their locations prior to the beginning of the Genius Camp – including pencils to fill out the Reflection Forms.  We also made sure an adult was present at every session, which means you really need to have a team who is on board and awesome, like mine!

Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp
Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp


Make Your Classroom the Etsy of Education

You’ve seen schools compared to factory assembly lines, systems designed to produce a uniform product that can safely pass inspection before being released to the market.  It turns out that some people (many, actually) don’t feel that is a great way to educate.  We’ve realized that expecting everyone to conform to one set of standards is probably not in the best interest of our children – or their futures.  But, just as you can’t shut down a factory and immediately expect the employees to start producing their own individual creations, you can’t put the brakes on an educational system that has thrown all of its resources toward one goal for decades and expect teachers to suddenly shape our students into innovators.

In his book, Originals, Adam Grant, an University of Pennsylvania professor, offers ideas for developing a culture of non-conformity.  In this interview that he did with Elissa Nadworny, Grant specifically addresses ways that we can help children to grow to be individuals with unique personalities and strong values.  He gives advice on rules, group work, and deadlines.  He also describes an interesting project he assigned his students that required them to challenge assumptions.

Many times we champion conformity without even realizing it. Certainly there are situations when it is helpful to us as individuals and even beneficial to society.  But innovation needs to be encouraged and celebrated as well, and Grant has some suggestions for how to do just that.  As a teacher, I have sadly observed students who have surrendered their uniqueness in order to fit into the system.  Sometimes, it is difficult to retrieve those uncommon qualities that make people stand out, but I think it’s our responsibility to help our children to embrace them and view them as strengths.  If we want each child in future generations to be one-of-a-kind, we need to change the system designed to expect the same from everyone.

Originals, by Adam Grant
Originals, by Adam Grant

Mental Floss Quizzes

For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I want to call your attention to the Mental Floss Quizzes page.  Some people may not label taking a quiz as particularly fun, but I enjoy stressing myself over these quick brain challenges.  My latest obsession is “Finish the Country Names,” which I still haven’t managed to complete.  Despite the efforts of my extremely demanding college geography professors, there are still apparently some countries that I’ve never heard of (Burkina Faso?) or can’t spell (Bosnia Herzegovina).  Right now I’m at 35/48, but I’m determined to get all of them! This is my way of challenging my growth mindset…

Not yet...
Not yet…

3D Stanley

The long-suffering Flat Stanley no longer has to endure the indignation of postal journeys.  Karen Bosch and her students have developed a 21st century solution to Stanley’s travel woes.  They created 3D Stanley’s!  Download one of the .stl files from their site, and print the “Stanley” of your choice with your school’s 3d printer. Then take a picture of your visitor in its new environment and share the picture in a Tweet or through e-mail (@karlyb or via email to

This is a great twist on a popular school tradition, and I love that Bosch’s students even gave their characters short bios to make them unique!

Since I recently did a presentation on global collaboration, this gives me all sorts of ideas.  How about doing some sort of mystery print, where the students download separate pieces, print them, and then have to figure out to assemble them to make something?  Or tweeting pics of 3D Stanley’s in front of moderately famous landmarks and having classes guess their locations?

I hope that you can support Bosch and her students with their project.  Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas!

For more information on 3d printing, including what you should consider before purchasing one, you may want to check out some of my other posts.

Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley!
Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley! Image courtesy of Jimmie on Flickr